How to Make a Cold Networking Request, with Emma Britton

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It’s easy to reach out to friends and family when we need information during a job search. But have you ever considered networking with a stranger? Making a cold networking request might not be the easiest step you could take, but it can open up opportunities you wouldn’t have known about otherwise, says Find Your Dream Job guest Emma Britton. Even if you don’t know someone, Emma says they’re likely to agree to connect simply to give back. They also realize you, as another professional, have things to offer. So, be confident, reach out, and ask for exactly what you need. 

About Our Guest:

Emma Britton is the director of career services at the National University of Natural Medicine.

Resources in This Episode:


Find Your Dream Job, Episode 437:

How to Make a Cold Networking Request, with Emma Britton

Airdate: February 14, 2024

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

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There’s someone who could help you with your job search.

But you have no connections in common.

What do you do next?

Emma Britton is here to talk about how to make a cold networking request.

She’s the director of career services at the National University of Natural Medicine.

Emma joins us from Portland, Oregon.

Well, let’s get going, Emma. Here’s where I want to start. Why do you need to network with people you’ve never met before?

Emma Britton:

Absolutely. So, it’s always lovely when we can network with people who we have some kind of acquaintanceship or professional affiliation with. But the truth of the matter is that there are moments in our career where we may want to learn more about a specific field or industry or a specific role that we’re interested in pursuing, and maybe our network is not built out with folks who are working in those capacities.

And so, if you are able to do that cold networking, make that request, you are going to find yourself in a position to learn so much more about the world of work than if you choose not to make these kinds of requests.

Mac Prichard:

Tell us more about that, Emma. How can someone you don’t know help you with your job search?

Emma Britton:

Yeah, so somebody that you don’t know, they could have information that you really want to determine whether or not you’re going to pivot in your career or whether you’re going to even invest in additional education. Whether that’s continuing education or, an industry certification, or even something as large and time-consuming as graduate education. So, there’s a variety of reasons you might want to reach out to somebody that you don’t know about.

Or even to learn a little bit more about a specific organization that you’d like to work for. I think that’s a big one is we have some really fantastic employers in the Portland Metro that people want to potentially work for. But if you don’t actively know anyone at the organization, how are you going to learn more?

There are online resources that you can look to to learn more about those organizations, but it’s really different. It’s a different lens when you’re talking to another human being, and you’re getting their insight about what it’s like to work in a specific job or work for a specific employer or even work on a specific team or have a specific boss within that organization. So, there are all kinds of reasons why we might want to connect with people that we don’t know in order to move our career forward in a specific direction.

Mac Prichard:

You run a career services center at a university. So, you’ve worked with many, many students and graduates and coached them on networking. In your experience, Emma, why do strangers help others, especially if you’re maybe someone who gets a cold networking request from someone they don’t know?

Emma Britton:

I think that it, of course, varies from person to person. But I think one reason that people will connect with folks that they don’t know is because it’s an opportunity to give back to the professional community that they’re embedded in, and if they enjoy what they do, or even if they

have a more complex relationship with work, it’s an opportunity for them to really help somebody else.

And I think that, in my own personal experience with cold networking, making cold call requests to folks, it’s been incredibly validating, and just, it’s felt so wonderful to realize how many people are out there who actually will take the time, and do want to give back, and do want to offer their advice to you. So, I think that’s one reason.

And I think another reason is because sometimes it can take somebody back to their why. We can get so caught up in the day-to-day work that we have to do in our professional sphere or, frankly, in every sphere of life. And sometimes it’s really nice. It gives the person the opportunity to remember why they chose to pursue a certain line of work. And what role does that work have for them in their life?

So, it can really help people connect back with their purpose, and that is something that I think, especially being on the receiving end of cold networking requests, that’s something that I’ve really enjoyed being a part of, frankly, is remembering why I do the work that I do. What is my purpose in the work?

Mac Prichard:

In your experience, what stops the students and grads that you work with that are doing job searches from making cold networking requests?

Emma Britton:

There are a number of different things that can come up for people when they’re thinking about doing something like this and give them pause. So, one thing that I’ve heard very consistently is that they are nervous to take from people; to take time, to take energy, and as a result of that, there’s a nervousness that can come up around what the person’s reaction is going to be.

So, are they going to be offended that this student or alumni, or professional had the audacity to reach out to them? And I giggle a little bit because the truth of the matter is that I don’t know – most people – I don’t know; personally, I’ve never personally had anyone email me back to tell me how offended they were that I would reach out to them and ask them for more information about themselves or their professional life. So that is definitely one reason.

And I think that the other reason that people are hesitant to do this is because they’re not sure how to approach it, like the logistics of it. What do I say? How long do I write this request if it’s done through email? So, understanding the logistical dynamics of reaching out can be confusing to the point where it’s just easier not to do so.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about that because you’ve got specific tips for how to make cold networking requests, and one of your first recommendations is to keep your audience in mind. Tell us more about that, Emma.

Emma Britton:

Yes, I think for me, keeping your audience in mind is something that is a priority in any professional communication that I’m making. But, specifically, when it comes to making cold networking requests, I try if I’m able, and this is challenging if you don’t know somebody, if they’re a stranger. But I try to really dip into their mind frame.

When I look at their profile on LinkedIn, or I find more information about them on a company website, for example, I try to think about, what is the potential cadence of this person’s day. What are their priorities? What kinds of responsibilities do they potentially have outside of work? Like a spouse children, maybe they coach softball, maybe they have hobbies that they’re engaged in.

And as a result of that, really, one of the best pieces of advice that I could give someone who’s doing cold networking is to really be brief. I think that brevity makes a really big difference in getting somebody to agree to chat with you. Because when you’re brief, it’s like poetry. You need to choose your words wisely.

I remember a quote, and I think that it’s attributed to Mark Twain, where he said to a friend he was sending a letter to his friend, and he said, he started the letter off by saying, “I would’ve written you a shorter letter, but I didn’t have time.”

And I think that this speaks to the idea that sometimes we get so caught up in our ideas that we aren’t able to really distill those main points down. And I think that’s very crucial when it comes to written communication, and I think email specifically. And so, if you’re able to be brief, someone is going to be able to consume that information much more quickly, and they’ll be able to determine more quickly whether or not it’s an ask that they can accommodate.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific. I want to take a break, Emma, and when we come back, I want to talk a little more about keeping your audience in mind and how best to communicate with others. So, stay with us.

When we return, Emma Britton will continue to share her advice on how to make a cold networking request.

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Emma Britton.

She’s the director of career services at the National University of Natural Medicine.

And Emma joins us from Portland, Oregon.

Now, Emma, before the break, we were talking about how to make cold networking requests. One quick follow-up about your last point; you mentioned the importance of brevity.

Tell us more about how can you be sure what communication channel to use when you’re sending that brief message to someone. Should you use LinkedIn? Email? Or text? How do you figure that out?

Emma Britton:

That’s a great question. I think that if you have their work email, not their personal email, but their work email and it’s something that is publicly published on a website, which sometimes organizations will have that available. Other times, they won’t. But I think that that is, if it’s publicly published, I think that’s a fine way to reach out.

I think that people are generally looking at their email, depending on the kind of work that they’re in, quite regularly. And so, that’s always a lovely avenue to take if you have that information available to you.

I think LinkedIn is also another fine way to do that outreach. I know that if folks don’t have a premium account, you can still reach out to some folks that are not in your network and others not so much. So that might be a good reason to consider that investment. But those are two of the main ways that I would reach out.

If you have a direct phone number for somebody, if it’s a really mid-sized or boutique small business and it is published and readily available, that is also another avenue to take. Although, I will say it can be a bit confronting if you reach out by phone and somebody picks up because maybe you were prepared to leave a message.

So, I think it’s very important to have a good idea of what you’d like to say, especially by phone, because you’re going to be potentially live with that person as opposed to curating your communication well before they would even receive it through written form.

Mac Prichard:

Well, know what you want to say, and that brings us to your next recommendation, which is, when you’re making a cold networking request, know why you want to the meeting. Tell us more about why this is important why you want the meeting.

Emma Britton:

Yes, it’s very important to know why you want the meeting. It’s important for you to know, and it’s important for you to know that so that you’re able to communicate that effectively in the outreach.

One thing that I see folks do sometimes when they’ll send me a draft, like students and alumni that I’m currently working with or who I’ve worked with in the past at other organizations where I’ve done this work, is they are, this kind of ties in with brevity. But they will really go deep into details about how they found the person and other kinds of details that are not bad information. But I think that when someone, we have to remember when somebody’s reading this, they’re in the cadence of their work day.

So they’re probably going to be more focused on trying to understand what you want and how they’re going to respond. So if you’re able to communicate to know why you want the meeting. Do you want to learn something about the job that this person does? Do you want to know more about the organization that this person works for? That is going to be very helpful to you in terms of framing the outreach as well as the conversation that you have with them if they do elect to meet with you.

Mac Prichard:

Another suggestion you make for cold networking requests is not only to know why you want the meeting but why you’re reaching out. How does being clear about this help you get someone to say yes to your cold networking request? 

Emma Britton:

Yeah, I think that we’re living in a time of busyness, and I think that we’re all mitigating this busyness in our own way. But we have to remember that being busy and having multiple priorities that we’re all juggling is a really common feature of modern life. And so, and this ties back to the previous point.

If you have a really good idea of why you want the meeting and you can articulate this in the outreach, not buried at the very end; that’s not really the route that I would take. I would really recommend folks to explain why you’re reaching out up front, maybe right after you introduce yourself to them, to tell the person that you’re contacting what you want to get from the conversation.

And also, I would say how much time it will take. So, it’s a much easier lift for the person if you explain what you’re seeking to know or learn and how much of the time out of their day it’s going to take. Not because they’re gonna give you the bare minimum. But because they want to scope the conversation in relation to the other professional priorities that they are juggling during their work day.

Mac Prichard:

How specific do you recommend getting, Emma? In your work with students and graduates at your career center, what kinds of requests are they making? Can you give us an example?

Emma Britton:

Absolutely, so if I were to reach out to someone working at a local clinic – an example of a clinic that our students commonly interface with is Kwan Yin. They have an integrative clinic on the East side and on the West side of Portland.

So, I might say something like, “Hello. My name is Emma Britton, and I’m a student at the National University of Natural Medicine. I was delighted to see you on the Kwan Yin website working as a Natural Pathic Physician. I am really curious to learn more about what it’s like to work at a midsize clinic, a midsize integrative clinic.

I’m wondering if you would be willing to speak with me for about twenty to thirty minutes about your experience working at Kwan Yin. Please let me know if this is something that you would be available for. Thank you so much.”

And then I would sign off.

Mac Prichard:

So, you hit send on that message. What do you do, Emma, if you don’t hear back? What kind of follow-up do you recommend here?

Emma Britton:

I recommend that people do two follow-ups. So, I would send your first follow-up after about two to three business days. Let them have a little time with the request because we don’t always know the volume of emails or the cadence of the work of other people. So, if we are responding to people within four hours of them sending an email to us, others may not be working on that same time frame. So, I really like to allow people to take a little bit of time with that initial request.

If you don’t receive a response after that initial follow-up, then I would probably send a second one, but I would give a little bit larger time frame, so I might send a second one at the start of the next business week.

Mac Prichard:

And what do you recommend saying in those follow-up messages? Do you just take the original message and forward it with a note or what have you seen be effective?

Emma Britton:

What I see as effective is definitely not reiterating the same request. I like my communication by email and, frankly, all of my communication to have a really warm tone and a very humanizing element.

So, forwarding a message that’s already been sent, to me, communicates, if I’m receiving that kind of forwarded communication, it communicates to me that someone is, they are trying really hard to be efficient in what they’re doing, which is not a bad quality to have as a professional. But it’s not as warm of a touch as a perhaps sending another message but a new original message that might say, “I just wanted to check in with you to see if you were able to consider my request to connect, either virtually or in person,” if you’re feeling like that’s what you want to do.

And that one is typically more brief even than the initial outreach. And within that, I will also reiterate very specifically what the request was. So that they don’t have to go back to that initial email they received to consider. They can just read that second email and understand very quickly what I’m asking.

So, I want to lighten the load. That’s kind of, I’m moving around the central point. But I’ll be more direct.

We want to lighten the load in any way that we can on somebody. We want to make it easy, as easy as possible, for them to understand who we are, what we want from them, and you’re going to have a much higher likelihood of people saying yes if you make it easy for them.

Mac Prichard:

So, you send the original request. You do the two follow-ups. You hear nothing, crickets, and you recommended this point, moving on. Why is it important to move on, Emma?

Emma Britton:

Yeah, it’s important to move on because if you’re not moving on, then you might be perseverating on it. You might be trying to figure out why they didn’t reach back out to you or if something that you said in the email wasn’t perfect. And the truth of the matter is that we can try, and should try, to step into the shoes of others in this professional capacity when we’re cold-calling folks for networking opportunities.

But, at the end of the day, we can’t truly be in someone else’s mind. We don’t know what they’re up against. We don’t know what challenges they’re facing. We don’t really know what’s going on.

But most of the time, I try to assume that if they’re not responding to me, it’s not about me. Because I could really spiral out with trying to understand what I’m doing that’s not effective. I don’t want to get too emotionally tied up in trying to understand why I’m not getting a response.

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s been a terrific conversation, Emma. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?

Emma Britton:

Yes, so for me, I am working, as you mentioned, in the Center for Career Development at NUNM here in Portland, and I focus very much on meeting students and alumni where they’re at in their professional journey.

So, this could be helping them with their professional assets like their web presence, their LinkedIn, their job search materials, their cover letters, their resumes, their CVs. It could also be helping them understand the dynamic of formal interviewing so that they can be best prepared to interview when they do get those opportunities to do so. So, that is a little bit about me and my work at NUNM.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific. I know that listeners can learn more about you and your work at the university by connecting with you on LinkedIn, and we’ll be sure to include a URL for your LinkedIn page in the show notes, and when they do reach out to you, I hope they’ll mention they heard you on Find Your Dream Job.

Now, Emma, given all of the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to make a cold networking request?

Emma Britton:

Yes, the number one thing that I would have listeners remember is that you are also a professional in this game and that you have something to offer people that you’re connecting with.

And I want you to remember that when you’re doing this outreach, and you’re concerned about taking people’s time or asking them for different things, remember that you are also a professional who has value, and you can potentially help this person out in ways that you could not even potentially imagine at this point. So, be confident. Be confident.

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Francina Harrison.

She’s the CEO of The Career Engineer®.

Her company helps career changers, job seekers, and entrepreneurs.

Fancina is also the author of A Mind to Work: The Life and Career Planning Guide for People Who STILL Need To Work.

Your professional relationships are a huge asset when you do a job search.

The people you know in your field can make referrals, arrange introductions, and open otherwise closed doors.

Join us next Wednesday when Francina Harrison and I talk about how to build real relationships that work in your career.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

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This is Mac Prichard. See you next week.