We know that networking is essential for a successful career path, but where should we start? How can we find the people we want to connect with and what is the best approach to contact them? In this article, I will explain to you how in five months, I acquired a network of +150 contacts in London, as a Full-Time MBA student. My strategy consists of four steps: target, connect, meet, and follow-up. I illustrate them with my own experiences in the hope that you can start developing your own network. These steps require the use of some tools that are listed in my supplementary article “Tips and tricks to network easily ” in conjunction with this article.
Step 1: Target
First of all, you need to focus on just two variables: which industry/company you want to target, and which position you want to pursue. This focus requires a personal reflection of your objectives, your desires, and where you see yourself in the future. There are two kinds of people you want to contact. These are your “targets”. Always keep in mind that the world is small and everybody knows everyone. So, always treat your targets well and be respectful, even if they are not interested in networking or meeting you.
- People you want to connect with
My advice is “go big or go home!”. Try to target CxOs, Heads of departments or (Senior) Managers. You may want to contact junior profiles if you need to collect more information about the position, the company or the industry in order to make a good impression and show you are knowledgeable when you will catch the “big fish”.
- People who will give you access to the first ones
It is essential to create a list with your targets and then identify the networks that the target contacts may be located in. By identifying the relevant networks regarding your final goal, you will determine “the sources” where you can find who you are looking for. Think about groups, projects or companies related to your selected industry or people who might be able to connect you with your target.
When I started my MBA, I knew I wanted to know more about the mobility industry. Therefore, I joined a start-up, The Aviary Project, active in Urban Air Mobility. In exchange for my work, I increase my knowledge about the industry and I connect with leading experts around the globe.
Step 2: Connect
You now should have a list of targets. It is time to contact them! You may want to consider multiple strategies such as networking at business events, direct e-mailing or direct messaging through a social network. Feel free to use the method you are the most comfortable with. I recommend the first two methods as the last one could be perceived as “intrusive”, more specifically if, for example, you connect via Facebook.
Where should you search to find the professional e-mail address? I suggest the following non-exhaustively methods:
- Skrapp (explanations of its use in the supplement)
- Alumni centre of your University
- Company websites
Unfortunately, you will not always be able to find the professional e-mail address. My advice is to guess; try multiple common handle templates; I list these in the supplement reading. For the subject heading; include a short sentence which summarises why you are contacting. I personally use the “Get to know you” words to make my objective clear. The body of the e-mail should be short (around 100 words) and focus on the following aspects:
- Who you are? – i.e. student at X university, employee at X company, etc…
- Why you are contacting this individual? – i.e. “I enjoyed your latest article on X and wanted to know more about it” or “I’m interested in learning about your career path”
- What do you expect? – “Would you be open for a coffee chat?” or “Would you mind to discuss these topics over a phone call?”
Meet the target at an event
Try to target qualitative events, even if you have to pay a small entry fee. Your career is worth more than a £10 ticket, isn’t it? I suggest you review the profile of the speaker, the venue or the comments from the last event. Although meeting a person is further explained in the next step, never go to an event without being prepared! You can prepare yourself in the following two ways:
- Know your target: collect as much information as possible to make sure you have an engaging discussion
- Know yourself: always keep in mind that if your profile looks attractive, your target might want to assess you, as part of an informal interview. Know your story and sell yourself if needed! In addition, your target may review your LinkedIn profile after you meet. Ensure that your profile is up to date!
Step 3: Meet
Congratulations on having secured your first networking meeting! I can imagine that the stress may be rising and you want to get the most of the time you will have with your contact. That’s great! It is important to respect your contact’s time by preparing for the meeting. You can prepare yourself by using the following three steps:
- Define your goal: why do you want to meet your target? To learn from their experience? To know more about the company or industry?
- Prepare questions: I usually structure an informal meeting in three parts:
- Get to know the target: experience, position, education and professional background, etc.
- Learn more about the company and its industry.
- The reason why you are in front of your contact: recruiting plan of the company, profiles and positions the company is looking to fill, other contacts they can introduce you to, etc.
- Know your target and yourself: I refer to ‘Step 2: Connect’, listed above.
Note that the first two steps are essential to break the ice and benefit from the experiences of your contact. Never ask for something if you are not invited to do so. Do not ask for an internship, job or whatever you would like to receive from your target. Do not be selfish and always keep in mind the question, “what can I do for them?”. Try to think about what added value you can bring to this person.
Step 4: Follow-up
I still cannot believe how many people do not follow-up on their networking meetings. Please, send a mail within the next 24 hours to thank your target for their time. Before this, it is essential to capture the information you heard earlier. I advise you to create a networking tracker template which will meet your needs with at least the following information:
- How did you first contact your person of interest, i.e. social network, cold call, networking event, etc.?
- When and where did you meet your target?
- What do you remember from the meeting? Write down everything, any details you captured, even the number of children. This information can be useful when you will meet this individual again: “How are your children doing?”, “How was your last scuba dive?”, etc.
- What are the next steps? Do you plan to contact the target back? Did you both agree on meeting again? …
- Contact details: Name of the company, email address, etc.