Networking is an essential component of job searches today. According to L. Maren Wood, your chances of landing a job by sending a resume in response to a job posting are less than 10%. Meeting with someone from the company or finding out about a job from an acquaintance increases your chances to over 50%. Panelists at the Beyond Academia 2015 Conference also emphasized this point – if there is one thing you need to do in your job search, it’s network.
Let’s say you’ve listened to their advice and networked. You attended an event, took your courage in hand, and spoke to people you didn’t know about jobs you might one day like to have. You probably got some business cards to add to your collection, and maybe handed out a few of your own. Congratulations! You’ve taken the first step toward making new professional contacts and expanding your network of people. But what happens now? How do you turn those contacts into connections?
The best thing to do is follow up with them, and an e-mail is the quickest and easiest way to do this. Some articles say you must send one within 24 hours, while others say up to a week is acceptable. Regardless of the time frame, remember that reaching out is always worthwhile. Don’t wait for your new contact to make the first move.
Once you’ve decided to write an e-mail, you need to pick a subject line. Keep it informative and polite, and ideally mention the event at which you met. This gives the person you’re contacting some context before they’ve even opened the e-mail. Some examples of good subject lines could be, “Nice to meet you at Beyond Academia 2015”, “Good talking to you at the UC Berkeley Career Fair”, or, “Following up from Networking at Beyond Academia 2015”. You could also consider including your name in the subject line, or something about why you’re writing. It’s better to err on the side of formality unless the conversation was exceptionally warm and friendly.
How about the e-mail content?
- Begin by addressing your contact by name. ‘Dear Sarah Hunter,’ would be the most formal option, and acceptable in most circumstances. Since you’ve spent time talking with your contact, ‘Hello Sarah,’ or ‘Hi Sarah,’ may also work. Opinion is quite divided on appropriate etiquette for e-mails, with some arguing they should be considered digital letters, and others saying an e-mail is inherently less formal than a letter would be. At any rate, the above options are commonly used and likely to be fine.
- Open by reminding the contact of where you met and what you talked about. Your new contact probably met lots of people in a brief span of time; reiterate where they met you and something about the conversation. One example would be, “I enjoyed meeting you at the Non-Profit Panel at Beyond Academia 2015, and talking with you about engaging with the community.” Depending on how the conversation went, or how recent it was, this might not be necessary. A simple, “It was good to talk to you last week at the Career Seminar,” may suffice.
- Bring up something you talked about or a specific occurrence in the conversation. This could be an aspect of the career, something about the event, or even a shared hobby. Think of this e-mail as a continuation of the conversation you had with your contact. Another option is to investigate more about that person’s work online, and comment on that. Some sources suggest asking follow-up questions, but most say to avoid direct requests initially. It’s better to establish an exchange before asking for favors.
- Close the e-mail professionally. ‘Sincerely’ is always a good option, as are ‘Regards’ and ‘Best’. Find something that works for you, but avoid informality and abbreviations. Some articles state that more individual sign-offs, such as ‘Keep it cool’, come across as irritating rather than distinctive. Remember to check your e-mail signature setting too. It’s best to keep it informative and professional. For example, you can list your position, company, and phone number. Inspirational quotes, gifs, or pet photos are better avoided.
Take some time to find a format that works for you – don’t just write a formal e-mail that doesn’t reflect anything about you or the conversation you’ve had. There are no hard and fast rules, and you can find advice and examples to suit every situation. Look for reputable sources like Forbes, business blogs, and posts from experts.
There are also many other ways to connect beyond writing an e-mail. You could add your contact on LinkedIn or use other networking platforms like Relately. Depending on your situation, a phone call may be appropriate – for example, if your new contact told you they do not respond to e-mails. You could also arrange a meeting, introduce your new contact to another contact of yours, set up an informational interview, etc.
You’ve hopefully now begun a meaningful exchange that will accompany and assist you in your career. Check in with your contact at regular intervals to see how they are and maintain the conversation. Over time, your networking contact will become a professional connection.