No matter how skilled you are with face-to-face interactions, relationship building is a skill that can take time to master and some finesse to pull off. Although good follow-up can still be unwanted but it doesn’t have to be unpleasant. Let’s take a quick look at different types of follow-up that can strengthen relationships.
Social Media: Once an event is over, connect with everyone on social media ASAP. Unless someone specifies otherwise, start with Linkedin. Send a short note; “Great Meeting you at [Insert punny name of happy hour), looking forward to keeping in touch." They will most likely accept the connection. Then in a couple of days you can follow up with a more targeted message.
PROTIP: Follow the social media of any companies where you just made connections. You can use the content shared there to strike up a conversation later.
Email: If you have someone’s email, you can also keep the first message short, but you may want to add an ask. “It was great hearing you speak about [topic], I would love to discuss [more specific topic] over coffee or tea? Are you free in the next couple of weeks?”
Phone: Call a professional contact during work hours and leave a voicemail if they don’t answer. This way, you don’t encroach on their personal time. Your voicemail should be short and sweet, leave your number and email twice.
ProTip: When you receive a phone number, ask for the best time to contact them on the spot so you're not left wondering. If you're uncomfortable calling, connect on Linkedin first and try to schedule a time over direct messages. That way both parties can be prepared for the call.
If you can’t tell what sort of relationship you have with someone (especially if you're going to call them), lean toward being more formal.
Long Term Follow-up:
Unanswered Messages: Sent an email or a DM and didn’t get a response? Feel free to send another message within a week, which can be slightly longer.
“Hello ____, just wanted to follow up in case this slipped your radar! I would love to schedule some time to meet with you. [Etc].” This draws attention to the fact that they haven’t yet responded, but is still calm and friendly. If you have sent two messages (and perhaps one through another medium if you’re dedicated) let it rest for a while. Try again in 2-4 weeks when they’re schedule might have lightened.
Busy Schedules/Being put off: The higher up on the foodchain someone is, the busier they'll be. Handle people's schedules with respect, don't hound a COO who was kind enough to offer a twenty minute phone call. Sometimes, this may mean checking in with them monthly and scheduling something far in advance. On the other hand, if someone repeatedly cancels or postpones a meeting with you it could mean that they don't want to meet.
You have one of two options, you can spend your time with an easier contact (which is totally valid), or you can rethink your strategy by creating more value and incentive for the person to meet with you. This may include letting them know you'll check in next month and taking some time to gain their interest.
Keep your contacts warm by...
Sharing Content: The easiest (best way) to keep a contact warm is to speak with them. Any deeper connections you create make you stand out and help you form a stronger bond with your contact. Slide into their Linkedin DMs with a relevant article (something related to one of their posts, hot news in your field or a personal interest they have (bonus points if its a shared interest). Pair the content with a thoughtful question. “This is Zuckerberg’s latest commentary on social media in education. I thought ____ was interesting in particular. What do you think?” In addition, share and comment on the articles they share. Be bold and ask a question directly on their post, why not? It’s more of an excuse to DM them and get a convo started one-on-one. At the very least, they’ll remember you.
Inviting them places: Going to another event? See if they want to tag along or if you'll run into them. This sets you up to say hello and it may even inspire them to say hello first. You can try: “Headed to ___. Hope to see you there this year!” or “Hey, did you know about this? [Link to event]. They’ll be discussing [insert topic of interest] and I thought of you. Will I be seeing you?”
Show up to support them: If you know they’ll be speaking somewhere or going to another public event that you'll be attending, say hello. If they're hosting an event, let them know you'll be seeing them there or even check for volunteer opportunities to get a closer look at the action. After a while, you’ll become a familiar face.
Informational Interviews: One of the best ways to make connections AND learn something is an informational interview. Often, when people don’t want to talk to you about a job, they may be willing to answer questions about their company and their path to success. Furthermore, everyone wants to be appreciated as an expert in their field and for some that can mean giving advice to an upcoming generation of industry professionals. You can try messaging like this:
Hope all is well. Just read your article on _____ and I was so inspired by your story. I’d love to ask you more questions about your experience/journey. Do you have any time in the next month for a 20 minute phone call?”
If there is no content to reference you can say things like “I found you through [group] and your path to be CMO at _____ is really admirable!” or “Came across your profile and noticed you’re a Product Manager for [company you love], would you be willing to talk about your experience?”
PROTIP: Don’t ask for a job out right. Establish that you recognize they're expertise.Weave information about yourself into further conversation naturally.
Worried it won't sound natural? Let's chat!
But what if your network is full of great contacts who are ice cold?
These can cause some of the most dreaded awkward moments in networking. What do you say when you connected with someone on Linkedin but never conversed or when you want to contact an old colleague you haven’t spoken to in years? How do you pop up out of the blue without seeming insincere?
Rules of Thumb:
Acknowledge the Awkward: It immediately takes the edge off things (not to mention it’s polite) when you begin the message with
How are things? I know it’s been ages since we spoke but I came across an article you wrote and had to reach out.” Whatever the reason for thinking of them, be honest about it. The finesse comes with how you talk about it. “I see you work for Amazon and I really want to work for them,” is very different from “Noticed you’re a Media manager over at Amazon. I’m looking to get into media and would love any advice you can give me!”
Dress up your Ask: Networking is, at its core, a conversation. Conversations take listening, understanding and patience. Asking someone for a favor takes a set up, it needs cushion. It behooves both parties to bother with “small talk”—take a few moments to learn more about the other person. Not all contacts turn into something valuable but those that bring value have been properly nurtured and cared for.
If you want to work for Amazon, “I’m looking to get into media and would love any advice you can give me,” would make a great set up for an informational interview. However, you can be more direct (without being invasive) and say “Noticed you’re media manager over at Amazon. I’m mid-job search and would love to get some insight into the culture and expectations over there. Could I pick your brain?”
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Otherwise that's the end of our networking segment! I'd like to leave you with one last piece of advice; don't overthink it. If you second guess yourself you invite everyone else to join in. Be your biggest supporter. Set yourself up for success.