The Networking With Awesome Strangers Checklist

I wrote this back in January 2016 and I’m finding that people are still reading it and finding it helpful. Thought I would republish it here on my new blog.

Since graduating from college, I’ve sent a lot of cold emails and drank a lot of hot coffees with people who I wanted to learn from in different fields. This was incredibly valuable and led me to wonderful jobs, wonderful people, and great, timeless advice.

I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned. I hope these tips will help you make connections with people who inspire you and help you forge your path.

Quick note: I sort of hate the word networking but I’m using it here for clarity. When I say networking I basically just mean making connections and with cool people whose work you admire.

 Context: People love giving advice

When you are trying to get better at what you currently do professionally or developing next steps, meeting with awesome people whose work you admire is incredibly valuable. Thankfully, people love giving advice.

I think people enjoy feeling that they are knowledgeable and successful enough to be asked for advice. More than that, they seem to like being given tough questions – What role should I transition to? What field should I work in? What programming languages or tools should I learn? – and using their unique experience to develop smart answers.

People. Love. Giving. Advice. If you take one thing away from this post I hope it is this.

This is incredibly useful to keep in mind and this is how I recommend you structure your communications with people you are interested in meeting with. You should be reaching out to them to learn from their experience. Everything, from your initial email, to your conversation, to your followup email, and any further interactions you have, should be based on this principle. And everything else you hope to ‘get’ from them is very secondary to that.

I’d like to quickly note that people who see themselves as experts or veterans in a field are, in my experience, the most generous with their time, advice, and sometimes connections. So the fact that someone is a huge badass should not hold you back from reaching out to them. On the contrary, those people are wonderful to network with.

Ok. That being said, let’s talk about a few things you can do to make these interactions really great. Here are a few comments and pieces of advice on forming good relationships with awesome professionals in your field:

 When you set up a meeting with someone you don’t know, you are asking for a lot

 Not a kidney. But still a lot:

Time
Thoughtful advice
Possibly a connection or referral for their current company
Possibly a connection to their broader network.

For example, let’s think about time: By meeting you in the middle of the day, they may be giving up the hour where they focus best during the day. By meeting you in the morning, they may have cancelled the gym class they typically go to, or woken up earlier, or gotten to work later. By meeting you at night, they may sacrifice cooking themselves dinner to chat with you. The point is this: It doesn’t matter when you schedule coffee with someone, how long you meet, or whether you talk in person or on the phone – when you ask to connect with someone and pick their brain, you are asking for a lot.
For all these reasons, the way you reach out to someone to set up a conversation is really important. Let’s talk about some good ways to approach this:

 Send a gracious email with a clear ask

 Email Checklist:

Being clear about what you are asking for is an incredibly effective way of respecting someone’s time. It also makes them more likely to meet with you. It drives me crazy when someone asks to meet with me and I don’t know why they want to meet with me. I’m very happy to offer advice to people, but in preparation for a meeting with a stranger I always like to know what I’m in for.

Start and end with something nice. If you start an email by demanding something from a stranger and end with “Thanks” that is an acceptable but not great way to ask for something. If you don’t start your email with something nice, you are missing the opportunity to make someone feel good before you ask something of them.

I suggest that you approach awesome people you are interested in networking with with this message: I want to speak with you because you are interesting, have done really cool things, and probably have really useful advice for me.

 Set up the meeting

If the person you reached out to emails you back and agrees to meet, you should be proactive and set up the specifics of the meeting. Ask them when/where would be best and maybe also suggest multiple times and places for them to choose from.
Email them the night before or the morning of asking if the time you set up is still convenient

This is a really nice detail I think. Reaching out to someone in this way gives them the opportunity to reschedule with you if the time you chose is suddenly bad for them. If someone decides to just go ahead and meet with you during a bad time, they won’t be in the ideal position to give you great advice. So it is both nice and in your interest to make them very comfortable and make sure the chosen time still works.

 Send a followup email

You probably already know that sending a followup email thanking someone for their time is an important part of networking. So instead of telling you what you already know, let’s talk about this: Sending a followup email to a meeting with a cool stranger is a great gift to yourself.
A followup email is your chance to seem awesome to an awesome person while enabling them to follow up on anything they promised to help you out with. Maybe find an awesome article related to something you talked about and send it to them, along with your resume and information. Or send along a cool project you are working on. Say thank you and mean it.

 In Summary

Be a warm, detail oriented communicator, have and exhibit empathy with the person you are meeting with, and send an awesome follow up email to nurture opportunities and friendship now and in the future.

 
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