Professional networking can feel shallow when you meet people quickly at big events and never see them again. The key to building a valuable network is following up and investing in deeper connections with people.
I know you’re thinking that you don’t have time to spend getting to know everyone you meet one-on-one. It’s true that you need to be strategic in who you network with. But taking time to build rapport and genuine relationships with certain contacts is crucial for your career! Learning how to follow-up and check in effectively will help you stay on their radar, and it is more likely to yield results for you than continuing to meet people you never see again.
The tricky part is keeping in touch with your network in an authentic way, so you don’t come across as opportunistic or creepy. Whether you’re checking in with new friends or reconnecting with old colleagues, here’s how to do it to produce the greatest connections.
Follow Up After the First Meeting
If you meet someone at a networking event whom you’d like to keep in touch with, make a point to reach out immediately after the event. To help with this, jot a note on the back of their business card with the date you met and what you talked about. The next day, send a short email or LinkedIn message about your conversation and ask to meet for coffee. If you can, offer something small bit of value, like forwarding an article that relates to your conversation. Only reach out to people you are genuinely interested in connecting with on a deeper level.
Take It to the Next Level: How to Stay Connected
Meeting people and establishing relationships with new professional contacts is the first step. Next, you’ve got to stay on their radar and deepen the relationship. There are several ways to develop stronger, more meaningful relationships within your professional network. Here are some ideas to get you started and help you continue to nurture your new contacts:
- Commit to follow-up by getting organized. If you’re going to do this properly, you’ll need to track your contacts and create a schedule for following up – like a Google doc or Excel spreadsheet.
- Request a catch-up meeting occasionally just to check in. Obviously, the frequency and timing will depend on the nature of the relationship. Be appropriate and don’t make your contact feel like he or she is being stalked. Check out these email templates for reaching out to people under varying circumstances.
- Be genuinely interested in getting to know people – and not just about careers. Ask about their interests and projects outside their job. Find common ground you share. But also be willing to connect with people whose experiences are diverse from yours – it will enlarge your circle of contacts to people you might not otherwise meet.
- Consider their needs and add value before asking for favors. No one likes to feel like they’re being used. Invest in the relationship before you try to draw from the account. Do your research about what the people in your network are doing and what they need. It could be as simple as forwarding an article or offering to make an introduction. Or it could involve more of your time and resources like pitching in to help them with a project they’re working on.
- When you do request assistance, ask for insights or an introduction, not a job. Most people like to help if they can, but it can be awkward or uncomfortable to be put on the spot and asked for a job interview. Do reach out to a contact for thoughts about their company or where they see the industry going or their personal experiences.
- If your contact helps you in some way, let them know! Send an email or handwritten note to show your gratitude for their assistance. People like to know if they’ve been helpful.
- Arrange group meetings if appropriate. If you have a cadre of people who know each other, such as a group of former coworkers, arrange a get-together over lunch or happy hour. This can be an efficient way of using networking time, while giving everyone the chance to catch up.
- Keep your contacts list up-to-date. When you discover that someone has changed jobs, make sure to update your master networking list. And by the same token, be sure your own information is current so that people can find you and see what you’ve been up to.
- Know when to let go. Don’t keep pestering your contacts if you don’t hear back. People are busy, so definitely follow up once or twice more. But if you’ve made several attempts to get in touch and haven’t gotten a response, your contact may not have the time or interest in developing a further relationship. That’s okay. There are plenty of other people who will be willing to connect.
Use Social Media Wisely
We can’t say it enough – LinkedIn is your friend! When you first connect with someone on the platform, be sure to send a personalized note. And then scroll through your feed regularly, so you can see updates and announcements shared by your contacts. Send occasional notes to congratulate, comment on their posts, offer assistance, or just say hello.
If you are networking correctly, you are in the relationship business. Spend time sowing seeds of genuine connection, and you will ultimately reap the rewards of mutual assistance.