I’m not getting responses to my networking emails

A reader writes:

I have a question about the proper methods of networking at conventions.

In short, I graduated in June (engineering) and have attended a few conventions in the summer and fall (some for volunteering, some for presenting on a specialized topic, and some for observing what new technologies people in industry and academia are developing). Anyway, at these conventions, I’ve met with a variety of people and have gotten a lot of business cards.

My usual M.O. is to follow up with an email asking about themselves, their company, what they are working on, and if they might be able to point me to some others in their company that specialize in the field that I wish to excel in. However, what I’ve noticed is that I rarely receive a response back, and I’m not sure if I should re-email them or not. Recently, I’ve tried to connect with these contacts on LinkedIn, but not everyone has a LinkedIn profile and sometimes I don’t get responses.

Do you have any better suggestions for how to better network at conventions?

You’re making it too hard for them to respond to you. You’re asking a ton of questions that will take them time to answer (about themselves, their company, and what they are working on), before you’re getting to what you really want to know, which is just whether they can connect you with someone in your field.

I know you’re doing this because you don’t want to seem like you’re only interested in what you can get from them, and it’s polite to show interest in others. But the reality is, many/most busy people don’t want to answer a bunch of out-of-the-blue questions from a near-stranger about what they’re working on. When I get those emails, I mentally groan, and I bet others do too.

Instead, show respect for their time and get straight to the point, and you might get a better response rate. You just need a one-sentence intro like, “We met at the XYZ conference in March and I really appreciated the time you took to talk with me,” and then you can go straight to what you’re asking for.

By the way, if you’re just asking them to connect you to people at their company who work in your field, be sure to be clear about why. If you’re vague, people will assume you might be hitting up their coworkers for a job, and they don’t necessarily want to facilitate that. You’ll be better off explaining that you’re hoping to get specific questions answered, or insight into __, or whatever.

And if you don’t always have a goal in mind and instead are just trying to build the relationship, find ways to do it that don’t demand their time in the way that you’ve been doing. Send an article that you think would interest them, ask for their insight into something you’re genuinely curious about (but don’t come up with questions for the sake of questions because that’s not a good use of their time and it’s often transparent), or tell them something specific you sincerely admire about them (if this is genuine, most people will really appreciate it), or otherwise talk to them as one professional to another.

But drop the extraneous, out-of-nowhere “tell me about your company and your projects” questions. I know that lots of networking books recommend that kind of thing, but as you’re finding out, busy people — especially busy people who don’t really know you — usually just want to cut to the chase and get one clear request. There is a time for those getting-to-know-you questions, but they’re most effective when they come up naturally; they don’t usually work in this type of email.

{ 71 comments… read them below }

  1. KayDay

    I check our organizations “generic” email, so I get these types of things a lot. I am most like to respond if:
    1. I know that you are a real person and not a spam-bot.
    2. I know what you want me to do to help you, and it won’t take too much of my time.

    So basically, if you want an internship, say that right away (we don’t have any openings right now, but if you are polite, direct, and don’t say anything too crazy, I’ll at least respond to tell you that.) If you want to be connected to someone else, say, “I am interested in careers with non-profits helping stray kittens. Do you know of anyone who could speak with me about this?”

    I like it when people attach their resume, but some people don’t like that (I won’t open it unless I’m convinced you’re not a spam-bot). But keep your message short and to the point. \

    p.s. unrelated, but Alison–do you pay for your Google search box or use the free version? (It works very well, and my org’s search is not so good and expensive, so I’m looking upgrade.)

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I use the free version. It’s a little slow for my liking, but it works better than the Lijit search box I’d been using previously.

      And actually, when I want to search my site myself (which is about 10 times a day because I’m always linking people to old articles), I go here:
      http://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=site:askamanager.org&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

      For some reason, that’s faster. Not a site-installed search box, but really quick. And you can replace askamanager.org with any other site’s URL and it’ll search that for you too.

      1. Josh S

        If you want to search for something on a particular site while using Google, you can simply search like this:
        Chocolate teapots site:askamanager.org
        Put the search term/parameters first, then whatever site you like after “site:”. Oh, and it’s important to leave NO SPACE after the colon. Works great when you can remember a topic and the website, but can’t find the post. :)

          1. Al Lo

            Some of the more advanced search parameters

            Whoops; I meant to say “some of the more basic search parameters”.

    2. Shannon Terry

      I like Alison’s suggestions because they are personal and stand to, slowly, potentially build connections over time.

      Great article for the holidays (what I also think of as the networking season, too), and making contact with anyone you meet there (personal or professional). So many parties & opportunities to make connections and holiday parties, and some find it easier to chat with people in a social environment vs. professional networking opportunity. I always tell clients to have a super casual, short, very conversational and clear/concise answer ready for the typical ice breaker question, “So, what do you do?” And then have the expanded version ready if they show interest or connection to what you said (vs. bombarding people with your professional history during the White Elephant gift exchange :) ) (Actually, I think this is a good strategy at industry events, etc., too.)

      I’m a firm believer in ‘you just never know where that great lead/connection may show up!’ Alison’s suggestions for follow up after the party fit nicely for socially made connections, too. Great stuff, sharing this one for sure! Thank you!

  2. Jamie

    Alison’s advice is dead right – and I am one of the people who would internally groan at what I would feel was the receipt of a bunch of essay questions I had no intention of answering.

    However, I also totally understand why you’re doing it – because it seems like the correct social convention – so I think it’s awesome that you asked for advice on this.

    Rule of thumb – if I can answer your email in a few minutes you are MUCH more likely to get a reply. If I have to try to figure out what you’re really asking, what I really have to reply to, would it be rude if I ignored A and B and only answered X…I’ll probably put off replying so long that when I see the email while cleaning out Outlook it will be too late and I’ll just delete.

    People want to help – with so many questions on this lately I’m actually becoming a little self conscious that I don’t get more of these. Maybe I should try talking to people once in a while.

    Anyway, people generally want to help – but if you’re in most respects a stranger we want to help if it won’t be too much work and you don’t embarrass us when we connect you with out colleagues. :)

  3. EngineerGirl

    Yup. Agree with Alison.

    If I’m in a good mood, strangers asking for personal information almost always get the delete key. If I’m in a bad mood I send it to our IT security.

    Don’t ask for personal information.

  4. Jenny S.

    I agree that keeping it short and to the point is important. Many times, in my experience, I’ve tried to be nice and take the time to answer a laundry list of questions, only to have the asker fall off the face of the earth or not even bother to say “thank you”. I’m sure the OP would be not be so discourteous, but others have been so and it’s made me hesitant to respond to anyone who contacts me. If I received a direct and polite inquiry, I’d feel less like my time might be wasted if I never heard from that person again, than if I were expected to answer several questions. To be brief, you have to think about person who is receiving your email, and be considerate of their time. And when someone responds to you, please do remember to say “thank you” – it’ll put you heads-above so many other people!

    1. Shannon Terry

      Hear hear, amen, say it again, sista to saying thank you when a contact helps you out! For me, if I don’t receive one when I extend the effort to help, that’s the last time I do for that person….maybe I’m too picky but it only takes a moment, much less than the time I gave you…

  5. Not So NewReader

    Hmmm. I think I am probably NOT the only networking challenged person reading along here.

    Can you guys give examples of emails that you would answer? I understand you may not want to give real life examples, perhaps you can give a parallel example that gets the idea across?

    When it comes to networking- I go brain dead. I am thinking if I can type out some emails that would give me time to process the thoughts at my own pace.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Specific requests — whether it’s for insight into topic X, or advice on career quandary Y, or advice about the best person to contact at company Z, or so forth. The problem is the general “how are you, what’s going on in your job?” type emails from someone you don’t really know, which aren’t clear about what the person is looking for. I understand it’s an attempt to start a relationship, but those usually happen more organically.

    2. Angela S.

      First, if you could find out during which period they would be very busy, don’t send them an e-mail at that time. I work in Financial Services and in Canada we are always busy between late January to the end of April. I can guarantee you that if someone I don’t know well send me an e-mail during that time of the year, I WILL NOT REPLY.

      This is just my personal preference, but I don’t prefer networking with someone who reach out to me via e-mails after a networking event. I’d be more comfortable referring someone whom I’ve met more than a few times in person to a job opening – i.e., someone I meet at the church, someone I see volunteering regularly at the community centre, or even the barista at Starbucks who serves me coffee a few times a week, etc. Perhaps it’s because I work in a field where I actually have to go out and to meet people. I feel that with e-mail you are hiding behind something. I won’t use e-mails until you really know each other.

      1. Not So NewReader

        “I won’t use e-mails until you really know each other.”

        Phew. I thought it was just me- I felt awkward emailing someone I do not know.

        1. Elizabeth West

          I have to do it to do research for books, if I can’t get hold of them any other way. I hate it because when you tell people you’re a writer, they either get really excited or really wary. Like “Are you going to put my name in anything?” No, and I’ll ask you before I put in an acknowledgment, assuming it gets published. It’s nerve-wracking, but I have to do it sometimes. Also, because it’s crime fiction, it’s hard to get people who will talk to you in law enforcement and federal agencies. Except the FBI–they’re so used to it they have an office just for that and they are freaking awesome. It helps if you know people. My vet just helped me with something the other day. :)

          I really prefer calling them if I can, and usually offer to come in and meet with them at their convenience, so we can talk a bit before they allow me access to any information. I have to contact the Bureau of Prisons, and I’m hoping they are as accommodating as the FBI.

    3. Jamie

      I’ll genericize (it’s a word) two that I’ve answered this year.

      Hi – We met at Industry Conference after the seminar on Topic. I’m thinking of going back to school for Specific Engineering and I know your firm is known for that so I was wondering if you had any advice about educational path or could put me in touch with someone who would.

      I told him I would forward his email to the head of engineering. Which I did and they got in touch.

      Hi – I worked with Someone To Whom You’re Related and he recommended I get in touch with you. My company is closing and I’m looking for a position in Specific Engineering Thing We Do and I was wondering if you had any openings. If so could I send you my resume?

      I did forward his resume to my boss, but we had no openings for his expertise at that time so I asked someone who had a family member at another company who uses that kind of engineering and passed along the info. He was hired at the other company.

      I only went that far out of my way because I implicitly trusted the recommendation from his friend/my family member who had worked with him closely.

      For me it’s about being non-intrusive and to the point. And neither wanted to meet or take up my time.

      1. Not So NewReader

        It’s funny/odd, you know. I would have thought of that brief email as being abrupt and perhaps “self-serving.” Thanks for reframing that.

        1. Jamie

          Well, it is self-serving but I don’t think that’s bad.

          Of course how much social lubrication people need to get down to business varies from person to person – but for me if you need a favor and it’s something within in my wheelhouse feel free to ask. If it’s something I am comfortable with I’m happy to help, if not I’ll let you know and (if I can) offer alternatives.

          What weirds me out is the faux friendship thing. My company may very well be looking for someone with your skills so reaching out to me could be a win-win for both of us. But I’m rarely in the market for new friends via email – especially people I don’t (or barely) know.

          I don’t think self-serving is bad, as long as it’s polite. But then again I’m one of those people who is very polite to restaurant servers, but I really only want my order to be correct…I don’t care about their views on the White Sox or weather. I know some people love that though, so it’s knowing your audience.

          1. Not So NewReader

            “I only want my order to be correct…”

            I am going to remember that one for a loooong time. ;)

    4. Not So NewReader

      Thanks for answering, folks. I now have a better outline of how to frame my requests. I especially like the part about including a memory trigger “We met at x event or y organization….”.

      I like it when people remind me- without making me ask. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I truly do not remember everyone I meet.

  6. Ariel

    As an electrical engineer, we mostly work on stuff we can’t talk about :-). So someone outside the company asking about projects is viewed suspiciously. For EE’s at least, if you have specific questions (on the material properties of X7R capacitors, or why a circuit you are working on isn’t biasing correctly) most would be happy to help. General questions on hi, how are you are ignored even if we do know you.

    Good luck!

    1. Anonymous

      Don’t most private-sector employers do NDAs these days? Except for maybe public-sector or non-profit work, I don’t think people in any industries, let alone engineers, should talk about their projects. (e.g. supposed if marketing let their next campaign out of the bag early…)

    2. EngineerGirl

      Yes, this. Asking me what I’m working on raises all sorts of warning flags and buzzers. And we’ve had it drilled into us that those wishing to compromise us will try to use social engineering to establish a friendship and then suck secrets.

      So asking an engineer the specifics of what they are working on is actually a faux pas.

      That may explain the silence.

    3. Elizabeth West

      That’s why I’m very open about writing inquiries. I don’t know why I would ask that if I were networking for industry knowledge in view of getting a job. Wouldn’t someone need to go to school for that? They could ask at the school.

  7. Tina

    Personally, I try to respond to every networking email I get, but I am a career counselor, so have a predisposition for that kind of thing.

    As usual, Alison is spot on, especially about asking questions that take too much time to answer at any one time, particularly in an email, and about being specific about what you’re hoping to learn. Some of those types of questions are simply too tedious to answer via email, so I’m likely to respond faster if you explain briefly why you’re reaching out to me and ask me to schedule a short conversation to discuss your questions and interests.

    I’m trying to find it, but this past year I read a blog with a great example of how someone approached the writer for networking purposes. Wish I had saved it!

    You could try something like this:

    Dear Tina:

    I found your information on LinkedIn as being a career counselor at Large University in a Big City. I’m currently completing my graduate degree in college student development, and am particularly interested in pursuing positions in career services at urban universities. (Mentioning the employer and referencing urban universities shows you’ve done your homework, and I understand some idea of why you’re contacting me.) I would really appreciate the opportunity to hear your insight into the field, the pros and cons, and any suggestions you may have on how I may best market myself to career counseling positions. (You’re asking for advice/info, not a job.) Would it be possible to schedule a brief phone conversation? (Make the specific request.)

    Thank you in advance for your consideration. (As someone already mentioned, say thank you!)

    Hope that’s helpful.

  8. Angela S.

    I agree with AAM that you can’t be too eager when you try to network.

    In the last while, I have a few people trying to network with me. The latest one is a husband of a friend’s friend. When I asked him what kind of job he was looking for, he said that he would accept any admin work, office job, or call centre job. Well, that already gave me a headache. And then before I asked for it, he sent me his resume.

    I have also received a few LinkedIn connect requests from people I didn’t know. The only connection that we had was that we went to the same university. I asked one of them why they wanted to connect with me; he sent me a long message about how great a student he was and thought that I was very successful in my field and how as an alumni I should help out an upcoming graduate and blah blah blah….

    I’d be very reluctant to tell someone about a job opening unless I know this person very well. Networking is not the work of a few days. I feel that it’s about if you still keep up the friendship with people you met in your last job, at university or even in high school.

    1. An entitled Millenial

      I am willing to bet you have never been unemployed before. You have no idea what college graduates are dealing with in this job market.

      You should not connect with strangers on Linkedin, but a friend of a friend’s sister is going to connect with you and yes so is an alumni. That is how the site is designed to work.

      A lot of readers on this site just think networking is asking you’re best friend or family for a job, its not. The truth is it is weak connections are what get you a job.

      1. Tina

        I would disagree. First, “weak” is a relative term. While you may not have a strong relationship with a potential networking contact initially, it’s up to you to build that connection into a meaningful professional contact (which isn’t to say you have to be best friends). Second, if it truly is a “weak” connection, the person on the receiving end of the request has very little incentive or motivation to help you. And as has already been mentioned, very few people are going to recommend or potentially even refer some unknown person, for fear that it negatively impacts their own reputation. I recently posted info about a job posting on some of my LI groups, and someone took it upon himself to use my name as a “referral” when he applied to the position, without my knowledge. So then my colleague questioned me about my connection to this person with an awful/irrelevant resume, and I’d never even heard the person’s name, which of course I told her. The candidate lost even more credibility by doing that.

        LinkedIn is intended to maintain existing and develop new professional relationships, not simply collect “trophy” connections. Reaching out to someone via LinkedIn (such as by sending messages) is not the same thing as actually requesting to connect. I am not going to link to someone just because they went to my school, or because they’re a friend’s sister, nor do I encourage my college students to do that. But I will happily answer questions or have a conversation if they reach out to me, and would be willing to link after that.

        1. An entitled Millenial

          By weak I mean acquaintances, old colleagues, or a friend of a friend. It is not uncommon for people to get jobs through people like this.

          You can stay in touch with these types of people, but not everyone can be you’re BFF.

          Sometimes you have to take a chance and ask someone for a favor and its not always easy.

      2. EngineerGirl

        You have no idea what college graduates are dealing with in this job market.

        This statement is probably untrue. There have been many waves of unemployment in the past, some worse than the current market. Many of us have dealt with bad job markets so making statements like this makes you look like you don’t understand history. It reflects poorly on you.

        1. An entitled Millenial

          It actually reflects poorly on you sweetheart. I studied economics and I read the news a lot. This is not like previous recessions like we had before. Let me throw a few facts at you.

          http://www.onlinecolleges.net/2012/06/11/the-10-worst-job-markets-u-s-grads-have-faced/

          Besides the great depression, those other other recessions healed pretty quickly. Notice how the last 4 entries are the last 4 years.

          Not only is this recession cyclical, but its structural. By that I mean employers do not want to train for entry level jobs, manufacturing jobs are all pretty much gone at this point in the USA and digital applications have made it harder for the average job seeker as opposed to before

          If you go back and read articles on AAM from 2009, it was the same thing as it is now. Its most likely going to be like this till the end of the decade for graduates.

          By the mid nineties the economy was booming or at least decent. Please don’t insult me and tell me you know what its like. Long term unemployment has never been this bad.

          Baby boomers and generation x had it so good that they screwed it up for the rest of us.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I don’t think your facts here are entirely accurate, but I’d need to do research to be sure. (Although I can tell you that many people would find your statement about Gen X laughable.)

            But that’s not the point. The point is that no one is in a position to tell a stranger that they don’t know what something is like. You don’t know what experiences the person you’re talking to is bringing to the conversation, and you will come across as naive and not especially thoughtful if you make assertions like that.

            Your age group is having a difficult time of it. Many others have as well. It doesn’t need to be a competition.

          2. Tina

            The tone of this conversation is taking an unnecessarily negative turn. People are free to disagree on topics, but using phrases like “sweetheart” in this context are unnecessary and inappropriate.

          3. EngineerGirl

            It actually reflects poorly on you sweetheart

            Wow. What a condescending, uncessary, and rude response.

            I didn’t study economics, but unlike you I actually lived through that time as opposed to having mere book knowledge. Several of us went through unemployment (I graduated early 80’s), so do understand the frustration of it. Also, you don’t take into account regional depression which can be worse than the average. In my home town it was 37%. I had to move 3000 miles away from my family in order to get a job.

            Your article is also mixing things up. For the class of 2012 it is using unemployed and underemployed, but for other recessions using unemployed only. You can’t mix two data sets like that.

            And blaming all baby boomers and gen xers for the problem? Really?

      3. Angela S.

        Wow! That is a big accusation that you are making here!

        I graduated in the mid-2000’s when the economy was better. But I graduated with a liberal art degree and I had no idea what to do with myself. So, it was very difficult to find graceful employment. I went through a period that I was very angry with the world. But after a few years of temping I got into the industry where I am now. Yes, I’m doing alright now, but don’t think that my professional path to where I am now is that smooth.

        To set the records straight, I have no problem giving out job leads to family, friends or a friend of a friend. They don’t have to be my BFF to get help from me. But at the same time, I put my professional reputation at risk when I refer/recommend someone. So, I would want the assurance that this person is qualified and hardworking before I give out a job lead.

        1. An entitled Millenial

          Its crazy the difference between graduating in 2005 as opposed to 2010 like me. I understand its hard to vouch for people, but some people just do not get it.

          The thing with college now is you can’t do that anymore, graduate with a liberal arts degree and get to experiment. You have to know what you are doing since freshmen year, not change your mind, graduate with a dozen internships and a huge network.

          Even then, there is no guarantee. These days people would kill for solid temp work.

          1. EngineerGirl

            Actually, there were very rare times when you could graduate from liberal arts and experiment. Maybe in the 40’s and 50’s, but by the 60’s the joke on a liberal arts degree was “you want fries with that?”

            It is worse now with the glut of college graduates. More people are graduating with a college degree so it is less than a discriminator than before. I’d say a liberal arts BA nowdays would carry the same weight as an AA in my time. Not that there isn’t more work there, but that it is less a discriminator than it was.

            1. An entitled Millenial

              I am sorry for coming off as rude, but its undeniable people come to this site with different problems and not everyone understands you’re particular issue, but pretend to. That is fine when it is something smaller like an annoying coworker, but bigger issues people get very sensitive about like me and American unemployment.

              Its also undeniable youth unemployment is higher than the average and geography is always a problem even in a good economy . If you live in the middle of nowhere thats all there is to it. You are talking to someone who relocated to teach English in South Korea for awhile because its one of the best opportunities out there for young people or old too and its not in America. Best part is all you need is a liberal arts degree.

              I suppose I was wrong about gen X, but here is what i was saying about the baby boomers, its a good article

              http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/10/who-destroyed-the-economy-the-case-against-the-baby-boomers/263291/

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                “its undeniable people come to this site with different problems and not everyone understands you’re particular issue”

                But you don’t know if you’re talking to someone with experience in your particular issue or not, unless they tell you. The problem is assuming things about others’ experience without actually knowing anything about them and accusing them of things based on those assumptions. (I’m talking about your earlier statement, “I am willing to bet you have never been unemployed before. You have no idea what college graduates are dealing with in this job market.”)

                If that was said in the heat of the moment and you don’t stand by it now, that’s fine. But that’s what people are reacting to.

                1. An entitled Millenial

                  My assumption was more so that she did not graduate into this economy with high unemployment and as a result obviously become long term unemployed herself as a result of that.

                  I was right, she didn’t. If I was wrong it would have been hubris of me, but i never assumed her career path was not easy.

                2. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Okay, but that’s not what you said. You said she’d never been employed and has no idea what people are dealing with in this job market. And yes, I do think that’s naive to assume, and that’s what people have been reacting to.

              2. EngineerGirl

                Yet another article with a skewed data set. Note that the numbers are carefully selected to only go back to the 70s with no correlation to historic events. And it was written to prove a preselected opinion, not a true analysis.

  9. Rana

    From my own experience, if I give someone a business card, I’m expecting to hear from them. Remind me who you are, and what I can do for you, and maybe a bit about why I should do it (but don’t go nuts on this part).

    “Hi, we chatted a bit at the XYZ conference, and I was hoping you still had time to talk with me about chocolate teapot design. If you recall, I’ve been working on getting my degree in spout and lid construction, and was hoping that you might be able to tell me about how you got into that field. If you’re still willing, I’d love to hear from you.”

    Intro. Context. What you want. What the other person can do (if willing). Done. :)

  10. Anonymous

    Why does everyone suggest sending articles? If you are trying to get your foot in the door of an industry, do you *really* have the knowledge base to know whether an article is noteworthy or not? More often than not they are useless and leave me wondering why the sender thought I’d want to read about [basic strategy], [outdated news] or [completely unrelated branch of business]. I would much rather have a young person come right out and ask for advice than send me irrelevant articles they spent 5 minutes googling.

    1. Long Time Admin

      I’ve been wondering about that, too. It just seems like a very pushy way to intrude into someone’s life. That type of person drives me nuts when I have to interact with them on a regular basis, so I would immediately delete their email and put them on my blocked list.

      I even cringe when family members forward emails to me. I’d so much rather have a couple of paragraphs from them about what’s going on in their lives. Forwarding crap is not communicating.

      1. KellyK

        I think you have to either know the person a little better or have had a conversation that really makes you think the article would be interesting. “Here’s something random that’s vaguely related to your field,” isn’t communicating, but “We talked a bit about various materials for chocolate teapots—so when I found this article comparing spun sugar and pulled sugar handles with solid chocolate handles, I thought you’d find it interesting,” is worthwhile. But it has to actually be worthwhile, not just something you googled hoping to create a connection.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Yes! I should have been clearer about that. It definitely comes across as naive/annoying if it’s some crap article that doesn’t truly provide new/useful insights.

  11. ChristineH

    I’m not the most adept at networking myself, but I definitely agree with Alison’s advice. This post has me thinking about my own networking attempts as my success rate in terms of getting responses hasn’t been all that stellar. I think I’ll have to look at my old emails and see where I might be faltering (I have a hunch though).

    I am wondering about requesting time to brief speak by phone (or in-person if I know I can easily get to the person’s location). I’m seeing a couple of different takes on that here, so I’m not quite sure about the best approach.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      To me, that’s a much bigger imposition than answering some quick questions by email, but I know some people like it. Since you probably don’t know which type you’re dealing with, I’d offer both as an option — something like, “I’d also be glad to buy you a coffee or give you a call if it’s easier to talk that way, although I understand you’re probably busy and email might be easier for you.”

      1. Rana

        Options are good! Some days I’d love to get out of the house and go for coffee; other days I’m just not social (or swamped with a project) and would prefer sending out an email at 2am.

        (And, personally, I hate talking to people on the phone unless I know them well or have a very specific agenda with clear time limits, e.g. “What hours are your business open” or “I would like to make an appointment for x.” But that’s just me.)

        1. Jamie

          Agree! I really don’t enjoy talking on the phone, it’s a completely utilitarian thing for me – but thats a huge ymmv thing. I know people who really enjoy meeting new people for coffee and prefer the n person get to know you things. Me? I like email. Everyone is so different, but you won’t offend as long as its not entitlement and options are great.

          1. ChristineH

            Thanks so much Alison, Rana, and Jamie. That’s probably where I went wrong in some of my emails, so these ideas help. FWIW, I got the advice to set up a phone meeting from a Career Services counselor at the university where I got my Masters ;)

            Rana, I’m SO like you with only being comfortable on the phone for specific questions or I know the person well.

            1. Tina

              I’m also a college career counselor, and we do encourage students to do that, if possible. It most definitely does depend on individual preference, but many of our alumni and employers actually tell us they prefer having these conversations by phone (or even in person) – we’re not just making up that suggestion for the sake of it. They like the initial contact to be by email, but prefer having detailed conversations directly. It’s part of what personalizes the networking. Again, that’s not everyone’s preference, so you do have to use your judgment.

              1. EngineerGirl

                This is horribly bad advice. A lot of people in the technical fields hate talking on the phone. It is really going to vary by industry and individual. It is best to have the contact decide how it will go forward, not the person requesting the connection.

                1. Tina

                  Without a doubt, the person on the receiving end always gets to decide that, and I do tell students that they need to use their judgment based on what they know of their industry. My own experience has been that if someone isn’t comfortable with talking on the phone or in person, but is open to the idea of networking, that they will propose an alternative.

                  Speaking just from the perspective of my office, that is what employers and alumni have told us, so that is why we make the suggestion.

  12. Chris (OP)

    Wow. Thank you for responding AAM, and thank you guys for all your suggestions and comments.

    I really don’t know if I have anything to add. Actually, someone on LinkedIn just wrote me a really nice response on what I need to learn to become proficient in the field I wish to study with some skill set and book suggestions. And he even offered an article for me to look at. I’m just speechless right now, and a simple thank you just doesn’t seem like enough.

    1. Stephanie

      A thoughtful, prompt thank you is awesome! Or at least I’d be happy with it. It’s more the thought that you’re acknowledging that the person took time out to answer your questions and that you’re grateful.

      Sending a fruit basket or something would be weird.

    2. danr

      Send a quick, short Thank you. After you’ve done some of the readings, a longer one would be appropriate, and you’ll have something to talk about, if the contact wants to continue the conversation.

  13. Chaucer

    Alison, I think writing an article about how students and recent grads can network at mixers and luncheons would be awesome as a continuation to this question. Before I got advice on how to introduce myself to people at mixers and events like that from one of your readers, I honestly not only had no clue on how to do that, but also dreaded the fact (I fully admit to being socially awkward and even a little bit shy.)

  14. Chris Hogg

    Great conversation, many helpful comments.

    A very helpful book for the career-planning and / or job-seeking networker is, The 2-Hour Job Search: Using Technology to Get the Right Job Faster, by Steve Dalton.

    Regarding approaching people, Dalton identifies three types of people we will encounter: Curmudgeons, Obligates and Boosters.

    Curmudgeons are motivated by self-interest and will not help others. And they will let you know they’re not going to help you relatively quickly (such as by ignoring any request you make for help, no matter how it is worded).

    Obligates are motivated by guilt, and will feel obligated to help others but finally won’t. But, they take up a lot of time and energy getting to the “won’t” revelation, which slows down and confuses the person doing the contacting.

    Boosters are motivated by a genuine interest in helping others. They have an innate desire to help, and so, no matter how we contact them or what we say (within limits, of course) they will probably respond to our request and be beneficially helpful.

    Thus, it is important how we ask for help, but a large part of being successful is whether or not we are contacting a Curmudgeon (they will ignore us), Obligate (we should appropriately (and quickly) ignore them) or Booster (they will help us).

    1. An entitled Millenial

      This times 1000.

      You can network all you want, but some people just do not care or do not want to help you. That is the point I was trying to make before and then everyone got upset, but it is an ugly truth. Sometimes its justified, sometimes its not.

      There was someone I went to college with who got a job through her dad. We stayed in touch after we graduated. When i moved back home after interning in another state and living abroad, she had been there for a while and its a small company in nyc. I asked her for help and she blew me off.

      My point is it didn’t matter how well i knew her. She was a curmudgeon. Meanwhile i cold messaged an alumni on Linkedin and she scored me an interview. She was a booster.

Comments are closed.