Networking Follow-Ups Don't Have to be Weird
How to master the art of following up on the follow up.
So, you networked. You got some courage, talked to someone at a career fair or a conference, had a good conversation, and exchanged business cards. Cool. Until you get home, and you realize you have no idea what to do next. How do you stay in touch? How do you make sure you’re not only reaching out when you want a job or need something? This is one of the most overlooked aspects of networking, and it can be hard to find advice on how to do it. I’ve collected the most useful pieces I’ve gathered over the last few years to share with you.
The first follow-up
Most folks know how to do this: you have someone’s business card and you send an email as soon as you get home. You thank them for their time, the conversation, mention something you especially appreciated, and share any other relevant follow up information (such as a resume). This is usually an easy one, but sometimes I get stuck with the ending if I’m not sure how I want the relationship to continue. Especially if you didn’t have something in particular to do after meeting them (apply for a job at their company, send them your resume, etc), how do you keep the contact from becoming stale?
One thing I like to do, if they’re someone I want to learn from, is ask for a quick (just 15-20 minutes) Zoom or phone call to talk more. If you want to talk right away, send them some times you’re available to shorten the scheduling process. Otherwise, you can say something as simple as “I’d like to learn more from you. Can I reach back out in a couple months to schedule a time to talk?” Set a reminder in your calendar and keep to your word.
If you don’t want to spend time on a call with them, you can end graciously with a line like “I wish you all the best and hope our paths cross in the future!”
You don’t have to have a recurring monthly Zoom call to keep a connection warm. (Having a mentor or two who has the bandwidth for a monthly or quarterly catch-up can be incredibly valuable, but not every successful professional you meet needs to be at that level.) Here are some tips for when to shoot a quick email or text to a connection and examples of what it can sound like.
Their company won an award or has some exciting news? Send them a congrats email! To continue the conversation, ask them a question about it.
Example email to a recruiter you met: “I saw your company just earned recognition for its exceptional employee culture. That’s exciting! What are some of your favorite things about your team’s culture and how do you anticipate continuing to recruit for people who are the right fit?”
Something in the news that’s in their area of expertise? Ask their opinion on it.
Example email to an expert in biological crop inputs: “I was reading about an increase in acquisitions of biological start-ups by larger agricultural input companies, and I’m interested in this sector. What are your thoughts on this type of innovation? Do you expect it to continue to grow?”
Are they speaking at an event? Show up, and let them know you’re showing up.
Example comment on a post about the event: “I’m excited to attend and hear @speaker share about their expertise!”
Read about them on LinkedIn or in a magazine? Let them know if you appreciated a specific idea they shared.
Example text or LinkedIn direct message to the subject of the article: “I enjoyed reading about you in (name publication or post or author). I especially valued your thoughts on work-life balance; it’s such an important topic and your advice spoke to me in a new way.”
It All Comes Down to People
This can seem like a lot to take in, and that’s okay. I’m still working on not feeling awkward when I send follow-ups, and I regularly have a debate in my head that goes a lot like this: “I should reach out to them! Oh, wait, I don’t really know what to say. Do I want to start a back-and-forth or will that be weird? What if they don’t have time? Maybe I’ll look desperate. But I want to see what they think about this. Do I email or LinkedIn message? What if they don’t remember me? Well, or, maybe it will mean a lot to them if I reach out.” If this sounds like your internal dialogue, it’s okay. Here’s the bottom line: be genuine and seek to add value. Like we talked about last week, don’t believe the lie that young people don’t have value to add. Asking a professional for advice is a gift to them. Do it respectfully and honor their time, but know they have wisdom they’re just waiting to share; why not be the one who asks?
Don’t let your connections get cold, and don’t be the person who only reaches out when you need something. Don’t leave your network at the follow up; keep following up, and watch your network both strengthen and grow as you invest in it. Networks are like just about anything else in life: you get out of it what you put in it. If networks are our biggest asset, we’d better be investing like it.
Before You Go
Looking for tips on finding a mentor? Stay tuned for a future post.
Need a place to find all these topics to reach out to a connection about? If your corner of the world is agriculture, you’ll find just about everything you could want in the Magnetic Ag newsletter.