Network, network, network. Professionals in every field have likely had this word beat into their heads. Almost to the point where you’d talk to any ol’ person on the train in hopes that they’ll offer you your dream job.
I used to roll my eyes at all the hubbub about networking. Why should I have to go out of my way to bother people? Why can’t my determination and talent be enough to push me to the top?
Then, I became a freelancer. I’ve had many, many clients that I never would’ve landed had it not been for someone in my network from graduate school or past jobs.
Spoiler alert: I’ve since embraced networking. But not only for my professional benefit. Connecting with others in your industry or city can provide immense relief. You can share struggles, gripes, and advice, and you’ll know that you’re not the only one that finds it difficult to ask for a raise or to quit working for a client you hate.
Understanding how to effectively (and unobtrusively) contact the intriguing people you meet is the first step to building a meaningful and beneficial network of people you can count on for support and referrals. Networking is ultimately about building personal connections. If you approach the practice with the mindset of only I want something from you, you could easily turn off valuable connections.
Here’s a look at a few networking strategies to try now, as well as a few you should avoid like the plague.
Contact them about something personal
In your initial conversation with this person, did they bring up any upcoming personal milestones? Their kid’s birthday party, a marriage, a fun vacation? Sending a short message asking them how it went will show you were listening and that you’re still thinking about that meaningful connection you made.
This is a great, non-annoying way to show that you want to keep the relationship going. It does one of the most important things in networking: shows that you care about more than just using people to get ahead.
Invite them to your events
Instead of reaching out to a contact with no real purpose in mind (“Just to say hey!”) try connecting with an invitation. Even better—an invitation to an event that you’re hosting or planning.
This is a great opportunity to say something like, ”I remember x,y,z about you after our conversation, and I think you’d really benefit from attending this event.” A simple note with the time-and-place details will do.
You could even consider asking an experienced contact to speak at an event you’re holding. This is a nice way to combine an acknowledgment of their expertise with an opportunity to connect again.
Connect on social media
Another non-intrusive way to reach out after meeting someone is through social media. These days, people connect on these platforms after never having met at all, so you’ve already crossed the boundary of what’s acceptable.
Once you’re connected on social media, this is an ideal time to send a simple message re-introducing yourself and saying it was great to meet them. This keeps your name fresh in your contact’s mind and is not going to come off as creepy or invasive.
You can stay fresh on their social media feed by sharing their posts or tagging them in posts you feel they might be interested in.
And, they’ll be able to see what you’re up to and could show interest in upcoming events or your personal news.
Don’t be scary
Obviously one way to avoid scaring a contact away is to not be annoying. But fun fact: many of us may not always know where the line is between friendly and horror-movie scary (or simply annoying).
Two rules to live by:
1. Don’t contact this person more than once in any given day. Just don’t. If you’ve sent a message and haven’t heard back, and you really want to say something more: don’t. Wait until they reply, and avoid following up unless it’s been a week since you sent a message.
You might follow the 3x3 rule: wait at least three days before following up, and don't follow up more than three times.
2. Don’t overdo the personal. Don’t stalk the person’s Facebook profile and send them a message about how you also love the B-52s and maybe you should go to their next concert together. This is going to seem to come out of nowhere. Make sure you reference something you actually talked about, and don’t linger on the topic for too long before mentioning something career- or work-related.
As with any relationship, you have to find that delicate balance of showing interest without looking desperate. Even if you are! Playing it cool has not gone out of style.
Don’t forget to talk about career stuff
Finally, remember why you want this person to be in your network. If you’re aiming to keep things professional in the long run, remember that you should keep interactions pretty light and professional.
If this contact works somewhere you want to work, after you have a rapport going, politely ask if you can send them your resume and tell them how much you admire their company. Ask them to keep you in mind should something open up in the future.
If you see a job at that company posted later on say, LinkedIn, that would be a great time to send your contact a message inquiring about it, letting them know you’re interested.
If you simply meet someone, inquire after their kid’s soccer game, and never speak again, that’s not the best way to increase your chances of turning the relationship into a work opportunity. And it’s kinda weird. So don’t forget to bring up the reason you want them in your network in the first place.
Don't forget to return the favor
Networking isn't just about you. Really! Be willing to offer something in return when you can—a piece of advice, a recommendation, a word of encouragement, a little exposure for your new contact as well.
Don't forget to take it slowly
Not every connection you hope to make will 1) want to connect with you and 2) be able to help you right away. Remember that people are busy (especially those in management) and that most people can't just hand you a job. Even if a new network addition can't help you right away, that doesn't mean they can't down the road. Building a solid and active network is a long game—remember to make it about relationships.
By Meredith Boe
Meredith Boe is a freelance writer and editor living in Chicago. Aside from contributing to InHerSight with insights about women in the workplace, she regularly writes literary criticism, nature articles, poetry, and creative prose.