In this weekly series, our friends at MBA Career Coaches will be dispensing invaluable advice to help you actively manage your career. Topics include building your network, learning from mistakes and setbacks, perfecting your written communication, and mastering even the toughest interviews.
You met Bob at a networking event. The two of you talked for ten minutes about Ethiopian food and perfecting your golf swing. The night ended. You said goodbye and went home, not knowing how to contact him. Or—potentially even worse—you got his card but did not create any context for follow-up. The evening ended as a nice conversation, and Bob is not going to become a member of your network.
That is because you did not give the connection a future. Part of successful networking means staying in the present moment and making the most of it; it means listening to others; it means being yourself and making a meaningful connection. But all of that will be for naught if you do not then add some of the great people you meet to the web of connections that make up your network. And you will not be able to add them to your network unless the connection survives beyond first contact.
Creating a future for any connection is very easy. You need to get someone’s contact information, but that alone is not enough. You also need a reason and their permission to follow up. You should take the initiative to keep the connection alive. Here are three simple ways to create a future for any new connection:
- Ask for something. Keep your request small, simple, and relevant to what you have discussed. You cannot ask someone you just met to give you a job, but you can ask someone to give you the name of their golf coach. You can ask that person to introduce you to the maître d’ at that restaurant she just told you she loves. You can ask someone to forward you the article he mentioned. End your conversation with a simple ask: “Would it be okay if I email you? I’d love to get that article you spoke about.”
- Offer something. Again, keep it simple and relevant to what you have discussed. “I will email you and forward that article I was talking about.” “I have compiled my top ten travel tips for Tanzania, so I will shoot them to you in an email next week.” “I would love to connect you with my friend who is starting a new business. I think you two would have a lot to discuss.”
- Create a joint venture. “I would love to continue our conversation about pay for performance. I think we have a lot to learn from each other. I will email you next week.” “Let’s have lunch next week, and we can compare notes on sushi restaurants in town.” Here the conversation stays on equal footing. The communication involves no real ask or offer, just an invitation to continue.
As with all relationships, do not force things. If throughout the conversation, you cannot think of a single tangible ask, offering, or joint venture to give your connection a future that seems natural, then just be blunt. “I would really love to stay in touch. Would you mind if I reach out to you in the next few weeks?” And then follow up in whatever way seems natural at the time. Be sure to follow through!