Grow Your Network Organically
“You should be networking more!”
“Go out and meet people!”
“You should make more connections!”
If you’re one of the many management professionals who is feeling shackled by golden handcuffs at their current company and seeking a career upgrade, these pieces of advice should sound familiar.
The reality is, while the friend or family member giving you this career advice has your best interest at heart, it’s not very actionable. Networking has a bad reputation, particularly if you’ve been to a few events where most people are just trying to sell their product or service. It can feel like a huge waste of time that will never lead anywhere.
But even if you hate networking or think that you’re bad at it, social media has made it 100 times easier to identify and connect with people over time. If you approach online networking seriously and spend about 15 minutes a day on it, it will unlock potential paths to improve your career, ones that you are unlikely to see advertised.
Finding experts online to help you with your job transition
Let’s define an expert: a person who has the ability and willingness to help you, who can impart their experience so you can focus on the right things in your job search. They currently have your dream job title or work at your ideal employer, or have done either of those things in the past. This is someone who can truly give you an insight about the work you want to be doing or company you want to work at, and who will be your advocate when the company is hiring.
So do you know any of these people? Chances are you do. And if you don’t, you can find them.
Create a shortlist of experts you want to connect with
Since the experts you want to connect with are busy people, you want to cut through the clutter of noise and emails that they receive. The best way of standing out is to make a genuine human connection. Invest time upfront in identifying these connections so you can follow them online.
Your time and energy are limited, so it’s important to make a clear list of around 30 people who seem to fit your definition of expert. At the beginning, it’s better to reach out to more people than you think you will need, so you can test how many respond and how many people you manage to talk to.
The best way to come up with this list is to run a filtered search on LinkedIn for people who are your first and second connections and hold a job title that you are interested in. You can also filter out by current or past employer. Are they doing something that they could share some insight with you on? If so, create a spreadsheet and list out the name, and LinkedIn profile URL.
For second connections, you will need to ask for an introduction. You can do this by sending a direct message to a LinkedIn first connection, using a template similar to this one:
Hi, I notice that you’re connected to Matt Jones on LinkedIn and I would love to pick his brain for 10 minutes. I would really appreciate it if you could send this introduction that I wrote below.
Build it up with multiple touch points
This is where you will start to stand out from the noise to get the attention of the expert you’ve identified.
Using your shortlist, research each person’s online presence. Are they on Twitter ? Or in a LinkedIn / Facebook Group that’s relevant to your industry?
Once you’ve identified where they hang out online, you can start to interact over a period of 2-3 weeks. A great approach is to follow people on Twitter, and adding them to a topical list, such as “Finance Experts”. After that, you can retweet and comment on what they share, to build up familiarity. Socedo is a really great tool for this as it will automatically identify what posts to interact with. If possible, you can also interact with them on Facebook or LinkedIn groups.
Remember, this is not the right time to reach out directly, but at this stage, it’s about making them aware of who you are. This means that you should also have a consistent online presence yourself. Think carefully about the kind of content you post to your LinkedIn or Twitter as this is what most people see in their feeds, not your profile.
If your expert doesn’t seem to have an online presence, you don’t have to skip this step. Rather than using Twitter, you can contact them via email to comment about something they put out. Typically, experts will have some presence in the industry. Research: did they give a talk or lecture or publish an article or book? Send a comment or question about it. This is an excellent way to get started building the connection without asking for anything. It also positions you as someone who takes a genuine interest in the industry or field that you’re in.
Taking the time and energy to build an online rapport with someone means that in the next stage, when you contact them, instead of wondering who you are, they will recognise your name.
Reaching out directly
Once you’ve identified experts, and built up some rapport, the next step is to reach out via email and ask for a few minutes of their time.
Remember, these are busy people, so it’s important to make it clear that all you need is 5-10 minutes. To achieve this, you need to carefully choose a few questions you need to ask them.
By asking great questions, that are clearly well thought out and customised to the expert you’re contacting, you will get attention. If you ask generic questions that can be answered with an online search, it is unlikely anyone will answer you.
Your email should have one single request: you’d like to meet them to ask a few questions, with a proposed time and alternate times. You should also offer different ways of getting in touch, like in-person versus call, which focuses them on making a choice instead of outright rejecting the notion of meeting you.
One tactic that I suggest testing is using audio or video in your initial email. By recording yourself making your request, you will help them start connecting a face to a name. It’s also infinitely better from a preparation point of view, as they can mentally start thinking of possible answers to your questions.
That’s it! If you follow the steps above, you will be securing short focused meetings with experts in no-time. Make sure you go in prepared, by following our guide to interviewing experts as well.