I just read really good, practical networking advice that I have to share. Here are some genius tips for all my fellow #GIRLBOSSES out there from a recent Cupcakes and Cashmere post.
How do you get over your fear of approaching someone?I see the ability to network as a muscle not an inherent trait. While there are people who have a natural proclivity for geniality, I can say with confidence that the more you practice the easier it will become. If you remind yourself that you too have value to add to the relationship, it doesn’t seem so intimidating. Don’t put the onus of the conversation on the person you are approaching. Meaning, don’t go in with “hello” and simply have nothing to say after that. It’s your responsibility to bring structure to the conversation and a bit of charm. What’s the worst that could happen? They blow you off? If so, they are probably not worth your energy anyway.
Where should someone who has never networked before start?Please, please, please don’t do the machine gun tactic. You know… the firing off of superficial emails with an overuse of exclamation marks. I can tell immediately if the person reaching out to me has sent a dozen emails before they got to my name. Building a network takes time and patience. It simply is impossible to fast track a well-configured network. Also, it’s important to point out that you can “network” anywhere. I was at a restaurant recently (before I worked for Bon Appetit) and the GM came over to our table to ask how things were going. Instead of the usual “fine, thank you” I told him the food was delightful (which it was) and gushed about my favorite dish (beef tartare) and told him the ambiance of the place really made the meal (which it did). I asked him to share his favorite cocktail from the menu and after a few minutes of small talk he handed me his business card. Instead of tossing it into the oblivion of my purse, I put it in my wallet where I was sure to see it the next time I paid for something. I followed up the next day, kindly reiterating how great the meal was and that I was definitely going to come back on several occasions. I have since been back a dozen times, email him directly for reservations and he always pays my table a visit with complimentary appetizers making me look like a hero to my dinner mates.
How do you maintain follow-up?Whether it be holidays, birthdays, beginning of seasons, births of babies, promotions etc… I find timing my correspondence around occasions as the best method. For example, I still send a holiday gift to most every boss I have ever had. Every year, without fail, I come up with a thoughtful (doesn’t need to be expensive) gift and card to mail to each of them. The gifts are usually all distinct, like the personalities of my former bosses, and try to give them something that is representative of me knowing them well. Also, a hand written card out of nowhere goes a long way. I will head to a stationery store and stock up on stylish paper goods that I can send throughout the year when something reminds me of them. A good rule of thumb is don’t let 4-5 months pass without reaching out to them in some capacity. A quarterly check-in will ensure that whenever you do need to tap them for help, you likely haven’t let but a few short months pass by. This goes back to my Golden Rule. If the connection is real, it won’t require a calendar reminder.
Is it ever too late to reach out? What if it’s been years?It’s never too late, but with a long time lapse, a slightly awkward first intro should be expected. To my chagrin, the “hey-it’s-been-forever-but-I-was-curious-if-you-can-help-me-get-a-job-k-thanks!” emails flood my inbox. I always feel that I am doing more leg work than the person reaching out. If you do see that a girl you went to high school with 15 years ago works at a company that interests you and you want to hear if there are any opportunities, I think the correspondence should sound more like this:Dear _____,As we all have, I’ve relied on social media to keep up with you and it seems like everything is going great. I noticed that you just landed a new job at _______________. That is very impressive, huge congrats. In fact, that company has interested me for a very long time. I think what they are doing with ________ is fascinating and I am eager to see where the company’s future is headed. I know you are new in the gig but once you settle in, I would be extremely grateful if we could hop on the phone for a few minutes and I could ask a few questions about your experience there. Considering it’s at the top of my list to work at, your perspective could really help me focus on what I need to do to be considered for employment. I recognize it’s been many years since we have been in touch but I have always admired you from afar. If it is OK with you, I will reach out in a few weeks to see if we can come up with a time to speak. If not, I completely understand and good luck in this new endeavor.Note: Never go radio silent. If the person can’t help you right off the bat, by touching base every few months you will stay top of mind if a lead comes up. Tenacity is always greatly admired in my book.
Join me as I put some of these tactics to work in my own professional life. What good networking advice would you share?