How to Network Online With Strangers, with Stacey Lane

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 188:

How to Network Online with Strangers, with Stacey Lane

Airdate: April 24, 2019

Mac Prichard:

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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.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps professionals find fulfilling careers.

I believe that lifelong learning is the key to a successful career. And to get a better job, you need to learn the job hunting skills that will help you find the role of your dreams.

That’s why we’re here today. Every week on Find Your Dream Job, I interview a different career expert. We discuss the tools and tactics you need to find the work you want.

This week, I’m talking to Stacey Lane about how to network online with strangers.

Are you still waiting for an answer to your last request for an informational interview?

In today’s episode, we’ll share one simple step you can take to make sure you get that response.

Want to learn more? Listen in now at the Mac’s List studio as I interview Stacey Lane about how to network online with strangers.

Stacey Lane is a nationally recognized career coach. She helps people with everything from networking to personal branding.

Stacey is known for her candid career guidance. And her advice has appeared in local and national publications.

She joins us today in person, in the Mac’s List studio in Downtown, Portland.

Stacey, welcome to the show.

Stacey Lane:

Thank you.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. Well, our topic this week, as you know, is how to network online with strangers.

Stacey, let’s start with a really basic question; what’s the simplest way to get people to respond to an online networking request?

Stacey Lane:

Well, one of the things I would really strongly suggest is making sure that you get the ask in quickly, don’t provide too much of your life story, don’t provide too much context…although you probably want some context so that people understand what angle you’re coming from or how they might be able to help but get to the point quickly. People have limited time.

Mac Prichard:

People struggle with this, don’t they? Being clear about what they want. Why is that hard to get down into an email message, or maybe a text? Because it sounds simple but it’s hard, isn’t it?

Stacey Lane:

It really hard. I think it’s because people want to give a lot of history, they want to give the whole story. I think maybe they think it’s going to lessen the chance that they’ll be rejected, they’ll be able to be better understood, and instead, I think it just overwhelms the person who’s receiving the message because they don’t have a lot of time to go through it, to understand it, to connect the dots, and they just want a quick and easy read.

Make it simple for the person to say yes, is the other piece.

Mac Prichard:

Know what you want to lead with that and make it easy for others to say yes. Let’s step back even further, Stacey. Why is it important to reach out to people we don’t know to talk about a job search or our career in general?

Stacey Lane:

Well, oftentimes we find ourselves, we don’t have the right network, we don’t have the right people in our network, or maybe we’re relocating to a new city, or we’re trying to make a career change into a different industry or a different area.

We find that we just lack the right resources or we feel like we have tapped out the resources that we have.

That’s the most common reason I think that people should look to increase their network through strangers.

Mac Prichard:

We’re talking, just to clarify about online networking, can you break that down for our listeners? What you mean when you say that, online networking.

Stacey Lane:

Well, I think with LinkedIn and with groups, et cetera, there’s a new opportunity now, not just to network in person. Also, networking in person is really time intensive and you’re really limited to geography so there are often times when people might be able to be a good resource to you in your professional network, but they don’t live close to you or they’re not in the same city or they’re not in the same time zone, whatever it may be but they would be a good connection.

We’re talking about LinkedIn groups or just finding somebody who has some expertise or some important information that could help you. Just finding them and being able to reach out to them and make a connection.

Mac Prichard:

Once you find these people, you identify somebody who might have the answer to a question you have about your search or about your career, what does this kind of networking look like? Is it a long series of emails going back and forth? Is it a skype call that you schedule? What do you see your clients do?

Stacey Lane:

I think, another thing about online networking, it’s maybe a little bit easier than in-person interviewing or in-person networking, is it gives you the chance to set the stage. It gives you a chance to prepare the person, and give them an ask but then to be able to follow up with them and say, “Could we take this conversation offline? Could we have a Skype call? Could we have a phone call or could I ask you some questions via email?”

I think that there’s a lot of possibilities to open up the conversation but the first step is to reach out to them via email so that you can set a little bit of a tone, give them a little bit of prep.

I use this example all of the time. I mean, none of us answer our phones anymore. Especially if it’s a number that we don’t recognize, so when you send an email, chances are, somebody’s going to read your email when they maybe wouldn’t answer you the first phone call, but you can say, “I’m going to try calling you. You’ll see my number pop up on your screen. I’m not a weirdo.” You can use some humor, whatever, but you can prep them a little bit before you reach out to them in another way.

Mac Prichard:

I love your point about the phone calls because I ignore a lot of calls too, and the robo calls in particular, but every now and then I’ll see a name on the caller id and I’ll pick it up and people are surprised, aren’t they?

Stacey Lane:

We really are.

Mac Prichard:

Often I find that we…to actually get someone on the phone, you really have to schedule that in advance now, don’t you?

Stacey Lane:

I think it’s just the way of work but also, you won’t catch them by surprise if you say, “Can we have a conversation? Here’s a little bit about me, here’s why I’m reaching out to you, this is what I’m hoping that you’ll be able to share with me.” And then when you schedule the call, they’re prepped, they know what it’s all about.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned LinkedIn, let’s talk about some of the other social networks for online networking. Do you find in your work with your clients that when they comment on someone’s tweet or maybe a LinkedIn post or even a Facebook page in their profession, that that can lead to creating relationships that can be helpful in a job search?

Stacey Lane:

Absolutely. It’s another form of connection. It doesn’t have to be more formal than making a comment but it can often lead to a dialogue, or reaching out to someone that maybe you admire professionally and saying, “I saw an article, I saw this blog post that you wrote, this really hit home with me.” It can be the start of a conversation.

Mac Prichard:

There’s a lot of opportunity here but they’re only so many hours in a day, aren’t there, Stacey?

Stacey Lane:

Absolutely.

Mac Prichard:

How do you recommend people make the most of the opportunities for online networking? Because clearly, you can’t comment on every Facebook post or retweet every message that goes through your feed.

Stacey Lane:

Right, and nor would you want to do that because it dilutes your message, too. It dilutes your brand if you’re just randomly retweeting and I think, too, it looks a little too earnest sometimes if you’re doing that.

Be strategic, find those that their message really resonates with you or you really enjoy their thought leadership; there’s something important in what they have to say to you or you really agree with it or maybe they have a little bit of a contrarian view that you also have and you can share that.

How much time does it take? I recommend, it can be sometimes no more than 10 minutes a week. You don’t have to do it every day but you’re selective and you’re making one meaningful comment, one meaningful contribution and that’s way better than ten that are just like, “Oh, nice article.” There’s no value in that, there’s no opportunity there for there to be a further conversation.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned sharing or commenting on material by people you might admire professionally; what are some other tips about identifying the strangers that you might want to network with online?

Stacey Lane:

Some of the strategies might be to look at who’s speaking at conferences that you might attend or, again, who are some thought leaders in the area that you’re interested in, people who have made similar career, if you’re a career changer, people who have made similar career changes to what you’re looking at doing?

People that have just recently gotten hired at a target company that you’re interested in, even if they’re in a totally different area than you, could be a good stranger to reach out to just to get some feedback on, “What worked for you? How did you do that?”

Lots of different sources, I think, define those strangers. Sometimes it’s just using LinkedIn to do a search on a particular, either keyword for someone’s professional area, company, somebody who has a similar background to you.

I was talking to somebody earlier today who has a very specific educational background and has made a switch into a different field, finding people who also have that same kind of slant, because it’s unique but it gives them a point of conversation and a point of contact.

Mac Prichard:

Think about the questions or challenges you have and find people who have wrestled with those questions or overcome those challenges and ask them for advice.

Stacey Lane:

That’s a great way of putting it. Yes.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, good.

We started out by talking about email and I want to talk more about effective communication by email. Particularly if you’re making a request, say, for an informational interview or a piece of advice.

What are your tips here, Stacey, about how to ensure that you do get an answer to an email? What do you see the people you work with do well in order to get those responses?

Stacey Lane:

I think there are some basics. Keep it brief, keep it to the point, let the person know why you’re reaching out to them. Make some kind of personal connection. Again, it can be about their background, it can be about something they’ve said, but there needs to be some sort of personal connection so they understand the context in which you’re reaching out to them. There’s got to be some point of connection.

There’s no guarantee that anyone will respond to your message so that brings me to the next thing which is, be persistent.

Mac Prichard:

People struggle with this, don’t they? They don’t want to be a bother.

Stacey Lane:

Right, we don’t want to, “Oh, they’re busy. I can’t reach out to them. They probably get 50 emails like this a day.”

No, they don’t and be persistent.

I get requests a lot to share my expertise with people who are starting out doing what I’m doing, and I will admit that sometimes if I get one request, I ignore it, and if I get a second request, I know the person’s serious and that prompts me to follow up.

I hate to even admit that I do that but I do. Because I don’t have the time sometimes to just respond to everyone but if they’re persistent enough to follow up, I know that they’re serious.

Mac Prichard:

How many attempts do you recommend people make? And how do you suggest they do that?

Stacey Lane:

Make as many as you need to until they tell you no. The hard stop is a “No” from them.

Mac Prichard:

Okay.

Stacey Lane:

I would just suggest, if you’re communicating via email, try that. If you’re not really getting anywhere, you might try another strategy, maybe try to find a connection with that person, a networking connection, find somebody that you might know in common. If you’re going to be at an event where that person is, make sure that you introduce yourself.

I think there are other ways of doing it and you could use social media that way too.

If you’re trying to get a hold of somebody and you see that they posted something on social media and they’re going to be somewhere, I’ve seen somebody do it very effectively, they commented and said, “I’m not going to be at that event but I sent you an email, could you please respond?” And they did it in a humorous, fun way and I think that it worked for them.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, well, I want to talk more about how to take these relationships into the real world and offline, but let’s stop and take a break.

We’re speaking today with Stacey Lane. She’s a nationally recognized career expert and she and I are here in the Mac’s List studio in Portland.

We’ll be back in a moment where she’ll continue to share her advice on how to network online with strangers.

As regular listeners of the show know, I record Find Your Dream Job from the Mac’s List studios in downtown Portland, Oregon.

I’ve lived in Portland for almost 30 years. It’s an amazing city with a wonderful quality of life.

I love Portland. So I’m especially excited to have the City of Portland as a sponsor of today’s episode.

The City of Portland is one of the largest employers in town. And it’s looking for passionate, qualified candidates to help our community grow and thrive.

The City is hiring today and wants to hear from people of all backgrounds.

To learn more visit www.portlandoregon.gov.

Now let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Stacey Lane. She’s a nationally recognized career expert.

She helps people with everything from networking to personal branding. She joins us today in person in our studios here in Portland, Oregon.

Stacey, before our break, we were talking about how to network with strangers and we were talking about things you might do online. Anything else you’d like to add? Tips about how to do that?

We spoke about social media and the importance of being clear in email requests, looking for multiple channels. Any mistakes you see people make that you encourage listeners to avoid?

Stacey Lane:

Lot’s of mistakes. Mistakes such as trying to do this entirely via email. Wanting to ask an expert who’s busy or somebody professionally that you admire their career or you think that they have some insider information and trying to do it all via email, asking them the questions via email.

They’re usually pretty busy so I suggest trying to take it offline as soon as you can.

I think it’s also harder to establish a relationship via email so if you can get them on the phone, if there’s some other way that you can be communicating with them. Also, it allows you to be more interactive and it feels more like a conversation and having a conversation with somebody makes you all of a sudden a little bit more of a credible person to them.

Mac Prichard:

What steps do you see people take in order to get those appointments? Because I can imagine listeners thinking, “Well, I could ask for a meeting but that person is likely to say no.” Or, “I’m not exactly sure what to ask for. What a successful conversation might be like.”

How do you recommend people both organize the agenda for a conversation like that and make a request that’s going to get a yes?

Stacey Lane:

Well, have questions that you know you want to ask. I recommend only asking for 10 to 20 minutes of someone’s time, even a half an hour can seem a little imposing to the person. 10 to 15 minutes, even 20 minutes, I think most of us have that to spare, and again, being very specific, when you get the person on the phone, what it is that you’re looking for. Not spending a lot of time chit chatting, maybe not even doing that via email, but being very direct and to the point can be helpful.

Mac Prichard:

I do hear from people who get a lot of requests and they’re always surprised by the folks who start out by asking for an hour.

Stacey Lane:

It’s very common, that’s very common. Or assuming that that person can meet with them in person or has the time to have coffee with them. Make it easy for them, make it easy for them to say yes and we can all say yes to maybe ten minutes or fifteen minutes, I think.

Mac Prichard:

So lay out options if you hope to get an in-person meeting, maybe offer both a phone call or signal that you’re available for a meeting as well?

Stacey Lane:

Yeah, if it’s somebody that’s maybe is in the same city that you are in and maybe it’s somebody that I would call this person a “warm” connection, somebody who’s still a stranger to you but it’s maybe somebody that you share a connection with. Make it easy for them. You might say, “I know you work in this building, could I meet you in the coffee shop in the basement on your way to work and buy you a cup of coffee and take 15 minutes of your time?”

That proactive, to show that you’ve done some research, that you’re trying to make it as easy as possible for them, that you’re really genuinely interested in them and you make it about them, I think that increases the likelihood greatly that they’ll say yes.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned getting an introduction to someone you’d like to have a conversation with.

What’s the best way of doing that, Stacey? Are you a fan of what’s called the “blind introduction” or the double opt-in and I can explain this for the benefit of listeners. You’re laughing so I know you know the difference.

The blind introduction is where you say, “I want you to meet my colleague, Jessica Black.” And I would send you both an email and I’d say, “Stacey you need to talk with Jessica,” or, “Jessica you need to talk with Stacey” rather. “I think you two will have a lot in common. I’ll let you two take it from here.”

What’s the problem with doing it that way?

Stacey Lane:

So many problems.

One of the big ones, I think now, because so many of us use LinkedIn to facilitate those introductions so that we don’t have to spend…we can just give a little bit of information but the two parties can then look at each other’s profiles and I think it’s efficient to do it via LinkedIn and so many of us more rely on it that way, to use LinkedIn.

I would say the problem with doing it that way is now, Mac, I’ve put the responsibility on you to facilitate the introduction and that’s just adding one more to do on your list.

You may really want to do it for me but what I suggest to clients when they say, “Well, I know this person and I’m going to ask them to make an introduction.” I say to ask them if you can use their name but I would facilitate the introduction directly for myself to Jessica and I would say, “Hello, Mac and I were talking and he suggested that you might be a good contact for me. Can we chat?”

I’m not making, now, you responsible for making that connection for me but I’m going to do it with Jessica. I think it actually builds goodwill with your connection because you’re not then asking them to make that introduction on your behalf.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, good.

Well, you mentioned LinkedIn, let’s talk about some LinkedIn etiquette because that’s an important part of networking online with strangers.

When do you recommend, Stacey, inviting someone to connect on LinkedIn? Someone you don’t know.

Stacey Lane:

Well, a standard best practice is please, please, please make a personal introduction, make a personal connection request. Don’t just, there are some little hiccups on LinkedIn that if you do a search and you get a list of people and you press connect, it automatically connects you and you don’t have the option of adding an introduction. Just be savvy to always make sure that you can introduce yourself or add a few words to why you want to connect with somebody beyond the standard, “I’d like to add you to my LinkedIn network.” Which tells me nothing.

That’s a big mistake that I see people make.

Another suggestion I have is if you are a premium member of LinkedIn is to actually send somebody an inmail, which is LinkedIn’s premium email service. I can send anybody, and you don’t need to be a premium member in order to receive an inmail but you do need to be to send one, but I would send you an inmail and I would explain to you, “Jessica suggested that we connect. This is what I’m looking for.” Or “This is what I hope you might be able to help me with.”

And then I would send you a connection request. With the idea that hopefully, you would get the inmail, you would see the contacts because the connection request only allows you, I think it’s 120 characters to be able to explain why you’re asking to make a connection.

The idea being that you would read my inmail and then it would increase the likelihood that if you didn’t know me, you would add me to your network. That’s a suggestion I often make.

Mac Prichard:

I know that many job seekers are on a budget, premium can add up but I just want to underscore the point you’re making that when you do send an invitation, even if you’re a nonpremium member, you have the opportunity to include a short note.

Stacey Lane:

Absolutely. Now here’s the other trick, check their contact information in LinkedIn, the contact tab up at the top and see if they’ve got a personal email address there and go outside of LinkedIn.

Say, “I found you on LinkedIn but I would like to see if you’d be willing to…” so you can set it up a lot more because now you’re using your own email and you’re not relying on the LinkedIn.

Mac Prichard:

What are the benefits of including, even a brief explanation of why you want to connect with someone on LinkedIn? How does that help someone with their online networking, and their job search, and their career?

Stacey Lane:

You’re far more likely to get somebody to connect with you, to say yes to your connection request, if they understand why you’re wanting to connect with them. Not just, “I’m trying to expand my network.”

But if you’re saying, “I’m trying to navigate a change into this area.” Or, “I’m going to relocating. You look like somebody who recently did the same thing. Can I reach out to you? I’d like to be connected with you.”

That’s the beauty of it; it becomes more of a connection request, it feels more personal.

Mac Prichard:

And it leads to a conversation. It’s not about collecting a large number of followers or connections on LinkedIn.

Stacey Lane:

Yeah, I’m always suspicious when people want to connect with me on LinkedIn. Honestly, the first thought I have sometimes is, “What do they want?”

Even if it’s something that maybe they…even if the reason why you’re asking to be connected to somebody is something that might not really resonate with me, I’m probably going to say yes just because you’ve taken the time to explain it to me and we’re generous. People are, I think, by and large, are so generous.

Mac Prichard:

I agree.

Well, Stacey, tell us, what’s next for you?

Stacey Lane:

Well, I’d like to offer some templates that I have for connecting with strangers online if anybody would find those helpful, as well as some resume and cover letter templates.

The question I get so often is, “I don’t even know how to start.”

These are some starts, they’re some ideas for how you might position these introductions to strangers online and to help build your confidence that you probably know how to do it, you just haven’t done it. It might be a little scary the first couple of times you do it but hopefully seeing how others have done it and seeing templates that actually work will give you the confidence to do it yourself because it’s such a marvelous technique for building your network.

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s very generous of you and I know many listeners will find that very helpful.

They can learn more about you and your practice, all of our listeners, by going to staceylane.net.

Well, Stacey thank you for being here. I just want to close by asking, what’s the one thing you want our listeners to remember when it comes to networking online with strangers?

Stacey Lane:

We talk about it, you know that it’s probably a good strategy, but you might be thinking, “Ugh, but everybody else is doing it.” And I can assure you that they aren’t, so it is a great way that you can stand out to make important career connections or to really jumpstart your career search. By reaching out to strangers.

Mac Prichard:

I really appreciate that because so many of our readers at Mac’s List ask me, “What can I do to stand out?” And I think you’re absolutely right here.

Thank you, Stacey.

Stacey Lane:

Thank you.

Mac Prichard:

Here’s the main idea from my conversation with Stacey that stood out for me; that was the point she raised at the beginning, that you need to know what you want before you ask someone for help and the reason why this is important is because you make it easy for people to say yes.

So many of the Mac’s List readers and listeners of this show that I meet with get frustrated when they send out requests and they don’t hear back. Sometimes, it’s because the people they write to are just busy or overwhelmed or can’t make the time but often I find when I engage these folks in conversation, it becomes clear to me that they’re uncertain about what to ask for.

Before you send off that first email, be clear about what you want and make your request as specific as possible and I think you’ll be pleased by the results that you get and the response you get.

Also, when you’re thinking about networking with people online, especially those you don’t know, you need to pay attention to your online profile. It’s so important and if you’re uncertain about how to get started, we’ve got a course that can help.

It’s three parts; it’s a series of videos and it’s called How to Wow and Woo Employers Online.

Sign up today. It’s free at macslist.org/wow.

Thanks for listening to this episode of Find Your Dream Job.

Join us next Wednesday. Our guest expert will be Lora Poepping. She’ll explain how to turn connections into your job search champions.

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

If you’ve exhausted your personal network and run out of known resources, you may need to reach out to people you do not know online for the next step in your job search or career. But what if they don’t answer you? Find Your Dream Job guest Stacey Lane says that you need to make it easy for the other person to say yes. You do this by getting your ask in quickly without sharing too much backstory, not expecting too much of their time, and only sharing minimal context. Stacey also recommends finding someone whose thought leadership you appreciate so that you have common ground from which to initiate a conversation.

About Our Guest:

Stacey Lane is a nationally recognized career coach. She helps people with everything from networking to personal branding. Stacey is known for her candid career guidance. And her advice has appeared in local and national publications.

Resources in This Episode:

  • For free templates to help you connect with strangers online, visit Stacey’s website at staceylane.net.
  • Your presence online is critical in order for employers to find you. Learn how to use your social media to make a favorable impression by enrolling in our free online course, How to Wow and Woo Employers Online.
  • From our Sponsor: The City of Portland is one of Oregon’s largest employers, and the organization responsible for keeping the city thriving is currently hiring. Visit www.portlandoregon.gov to learn more.