As an extroverted introvert, I love networking. Whenever I’m in a room full of strangers, the journalism major in me kicks in as I chat with new people and ask questions to uncover their stories. I haven’t always been very good at it, but I’ve found my last two jobs because of mutual connections, so something must be working.
As someone in their mid-to-late twenties, I’ve done a decent amount of networking across some…unexpected platforms to say the least. Before the pandemic, I connected in person with college professors during classes and office hours, colleagues at my first job, and complete strangers at happy hours and any professional networking event I could find. During the pandemic, I attended more Zoom happy hours than I can count, met all but one new colleague virtually, and used new platforms like Clubhouse rooms and Gatheround speed networking to form new connections.
Regardless of where or how I met new people while networking, I’d always end up with the same question: “Now what?” You chat. You laugh. You make small talk. You (hopefully) exchange information. And then you go your separate ways. But a stack of untouched business cards or a forgotten list of emails isn’t doing you any favors. Like any relationship, the people you connect with will remain strangers until you put work in and start to build a rapport. Whether you’re a recent grad or someone who’s been in the field for years, here’s how to grow your networking connections with intention.
Get their info
While everyone is Googleable these days, there’s something to be said for acquiring information straight from the source. When someone hands you a business card or shares their email, it’s a clear indicator that they like you enough to offer a way to stay in touch and grow your connection. It can sometimes be awkward to ask for someone’s contact information, but if you don’t ask, you shall potentially not receive it. In the event that you couldn’t quite ask directly—like if you want to connect with a speaker or panelist but couldn’t chat with them after the event—the internet can come in handy. A quick LinkedIn search will likely uncover their profile where you can connect.
Send a message
Too often, we collect business cards and then leave it at that. Now that you have a networking connection’s LinkedIn profile in front of you or their email in hand, use it! Regardless of where you send your first message, include your name, brief details, and a bit about the conversation the two of you had when you met in order to jog their memory. This last part is key—if you met this person at a conference or other big event, they probably met dozens of other people too. Did you talk about your love for the Chicago Cubs? Did they mention the book they’re working on? Did they ask you to send them your resume or more information about your company? Whatever it is, include it in your initial outreach to stand out. Granted this can get a bit difficult on LinkedIn, which limits the length of the first “let’s connect” message to 300 characters, but these brief introductions should be relatively concise, to begin with. Be effective, but brief.
Schedule a chat
Depending on where you want your new connection to grow, you might want to schedule a second conversation after your initial meeting. Pre-pandemic, meeting for coffee or grabbing lunch were pretty common ways to connect, but that limited in-person meetings to those in your same geographic location. Now, video calls are a relatively low-stakes norm that allows anyone to still get “face time” with people in other cities, states, or countries—or people who just don’t have the bandwidth or energy to meet in person right now.
Note: Many of us are struggling with Zoom fatigue, so don’t overlook the good ol’ (but sometimes dreaded) phone call.
Follow their company
Does your new connection work at your dream company? Follow the organization on social media and sign up for their newsletter if they have one. This not only gives you insight into the organization but also something to talk about the next time you chat with your new contact. Even if you aren’t on the job hunt, seeing your connection’s company pop up in your feed or your inbox can serve as a consistent reminder to follow up with them and stay in touch after your initial conversations.
Stay top of mind
Chatting with your contact once when you first meet and again as a follow-up isn’t enough to develop a meaningful connection. Whether you’re looking for a job, mentor, or new business, you should first build a relationship instead of making these important asks out of the blue. I’d recommend following up about once a quarter but only with relevant notes or information that your contact will find interesting or valuable. Industry reports, social posts, podcast episodes, books, etc. are all great pieces of content to send their way and keep the conversation going. People also love to talk about themselves. Did your contact just get promoted? How’s their book coming along? Are they leading their company’s incredible new initiative that you’d love to hear more about? Send them a note to check in—they’ll more than likely be happy to tell you more.
Read the room and try again
When it comes to building connections, it’s crucial to strike a balance between being persistent and being annoying. If the vibes were off when you first connected, you don’t have to reach out. If someone doesn’t respond to your first follow-up message or two, it might be time to cut your losses. I like to believe the best in people—maybe they’re busy or your message got lost in spam or they opened your email but forgot to respond. But sometimes people just won’t want to talk to you, and that’s OK! It can be disappointing (and I know this is easier said than done), but try not to let it get to you. You put yourself out there and should be proud of that. On to the next one.
More often than not, people love to support others through their career journeys, but the initial impact of networking will only get you so far. Once you have someone’s information, remember to keep the connection going through consistent conversation and intentional follow-up. Ask questions, but remember to be respectful of their time and show your appreciation. And who knows, maybe one day you’ll end up returning the favor.