You know that applying to jobs online is not the best way to go about getting a job. You also know that it’s the easiest and most painless yet the least likely way to land your ideal job. If you’re going to get your foot in the door at the companies that excite you most and have job openings that make your heart pound, then it’s going to require some networking and getting an introduction (or two). You’ve done the LinkedIn research and seen who’s connected to whom at companies you’re targeting. Then, you sit there and ponder how to get someone you haven’t talked to in years to introduce you to someone they know at a company you’re dying to get in with.
You may have even already tried and didn’t get much of a response or any real tangible help. You might even be secretly wishing that you had kept up a stronger network for the past few years so it wouldn’t be so damn awkward reaching out to people now. But here you are.
It really hit me that this was a more pervasive problem than I realized when I got an email recently from someone that I hadn’t seen or spoken to in over 10 years. It was from a former colleague who is now very senior in his career and works as a top strategy consultant to Fortune 500 companies.
Out of the blue, he emails me asking for an introduction. (The email below is just one example of introduction requests that I’ve received over the years that have really missed the mark.) I’ve discovered that it doesn’t matter how experienced someone is in their career, they can still be shockingly bad at networking and making connections.
Being on the receiving end of this “request to make an introduction”, I noticed that it really miffed me. I LOVE to help people out but I wanted to delete it and pretend I never got it. It actually made me a little angry.
Why angry? It’s simple. I hadn’t heard from this person in a decade and he suddenly comes out of nowhere and asks me to do something for him. He doesn’t really ask me how I’m doing or have any interest in me. He doesn’t tell me what type of opportunities he’s looking for. He doesn’t even know what my relationship is with the person with whom he wants the introduction. There is no attempt to reconnect with me in any meaningful way. I feel like he’s using me for my connections and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Of course, I know this is not his intent but it is his impact.
Perhaps this makes me sound a bit selfish but is it really? We want to help people who care about us. We want to go out of our way for someone who shows us even the tiniest bit of gratitude and appreciation. We want to help other people succeed whom we have a relationship with in some way. Bottom line, we love helping out people we like. It feels awesome!
The good news is that I’m going to walk you through exactly what you need to do to make asking for introductions easier and strengthen your network at the same time.
You want to take the approach of “go slow to go fast.” The rule of thumb is to build a genuine connection first, get to the ask later.
Here’s my simple step-by-step approach to getting that introduction from someone you don’t have a close relationship with already:
- Make it about them: Once you’ve identified someone you want to ask for an introduction, think about what would compel them to respond and get back in touch with you. Put yourself in their shoes. Comment on what you noticed they've been up to (check out their LinkedIn profile and/or Google them) and what impresses you about it. Ask how they are doing. Be curious about what’s going on in their life or career.
- Do not ask for the introduction in the first communication: Let it be their idea to help you. Could you use some advice, insight, or opinion? People love to have their ego stroked and rarely turn away from giving advice. It’s okay to mention why you got in touch with them…maybe something along the lines of starting to look for a new opportunity and your interest in reconnecting with people you respect. If there’s any “ask” here, it could be to grab a cup of coffee or chat on the phone. Easy and breezy. You are not asking for an introduction yet…creating a genuine (re)connection is most important at this stage.
- Accept their offer: After you’ve heard back from them, take whatever the most natural next step is, whether to provide more information, set up a time to meet, or ask more questions about them. If you haven’t heard back after your first outreach, send them another email a week later with a link to an article that made you think of them or something interesting that came up since the first email. It’s a non-offensive and thoughtful way of saying, “hey, me again, let’s connect.”
- Follow through: Once you’re “in” with your connection, I guarantee if you communicate clearly what you’re looking for in your next opportunity, they will offer to make an introduction (or refer you). If they don’t offer, go ahead and ask for it at this point. Be specific. Let them know how you could use their help.
- Make it as easy for them as possible: If there is a job posted that you’d like to be considered for, be sure to share the link. Provide them with a brief paragraph on you (high level background and what you’re looking for next), so they don't have to write it themselves when making the introduction to their connection. Of course, they can choose not to use it or tweak it to sound more like they wrote it but it's a thoughtful thing to do. And don’t forget the resume!
- Be insanely grateful: …for anything (literally anything) someone does to help you. Follow up after they've helped you and let them know what happened. People love to know that their help made a difference. And if it didn't, they might try again.
This approach pretty much works for any kind of help you might need to ask for in your career (or life) from those whom you don’t have the closest connection or relationship. Don’t hesitate to ask, just keep in mind the steps to creating a win-win situation. It’s simple, easy, and works every time.
As a side note, I gave direct feedback and advice to my former colleague who sent me that not-so-successful introduction request and asked him if he’d like to try again. Within two hours, he responded with gratitude for the feedback, admitted that he finds this part of the job search very difficult, and wrote me a whole new email. I promptly responded with an enthusiastic, “I’d love to chat with you.” We set up a 30-minute call a week later and I discovered that there are quite a few other people I can introduce him to that would be better than the one he suggested. It is a win-win for both of us! I feel great being able to help him and he feels more supported in his job search. All it took was a few minor tweaks to his approach.