When We Were Little Kids . . .
Little kids are like the ultimate networkers . . . they meet new friends quickly, they begin to laugh & play together immediately, and they adapt to new environments pretty quickly. It’s a shame we lose this mentality as we get older.
When my daughter was 4 or 5, we were travelling internationally and ended up at one of the airports in Switzerland. During our layover, we found the kids room to keep her occupied with all of the toys and games they had available. In short time, she was running around and playing with another girls her age as if they had known each other for year.
When we left, I asked my daughter what that girl’s name was and she answered “I don’t know, she didn’t speak English”.
Things were so simple when we were in nursery and playtime didn’t necessarily require verbal communication. You could just walk up to any kid, ask if they wanted to play or even just start to play with them, and that was it.
There was no awkwardness. There was no explanation required. You just blurted out what you wanted and then the two of you ran off to play.
As We Get Older . . .
As we get older and more mature, we started to move away from playtime and towards more verbal communications. It is during this transition that we start to express ourselves better as well as express our interests (and dislikes) more clearly.
This leads us to fall into groups based on similar interests which is not a bad thing per se. After all, what’s wrong with hanging out with others who share similar interests and hobbies? However, by becoming more insular, we also develop a tendency to avoid new people or at least have a hesitancy to bring them into our circle (or reach out to join their circle).
Yet, this is the OPPOSITE of what we need to do it we want to build a productive network. Many studies have shown that, particularly when it comes to using your network for job searching, it is the friends of friends or those people with only peripheral connections that are more valuable than your close friends.
While this may seem counter-intuitive, thing about it for a minute. You and your friends know many of the same people and many of the same opportunities. So while they want to support you, the value they can offer can often be limited. Therefore, getting input from the second level connections pushes you outside of this circle and into a larger ring of connections. With this expanded reach, you have a much better chance of having your network provide some benefit.
Getting back to your “Nursery Mode” . . .
Before getting into two specific tips, I want to start with a mindset shift that is important in this journey and can bring you back to “Nursery Mode”. I have met many engineers that are genuinely fearful about reaching out to new people. Unfortunately, they let this fear stop them from branching out to potential contacts.
Therefore, I want you enter into this venture with a “What’s the worst that can happen?” attitude. Let’s be honest, what’s the worst thing they can say? No? Sorry, but I don’t have the time?
Are you really that fragile that you’re going to let this little rejection stop you from trying at all?
Think more like a nursery kid and just go for it! Once you have that roadblock behind you, here are two tips to get people to accept your connection request and allow you to start expanding your network
TIP #1 – State your “How or Why”
In a sentence or two, explain to the person HOW you found them and/or WHY you want to connect. This doesn’t need to be something deep, but most people will ignore connections from random people that they don’t know and are in seemingly different fields. If you are in the same field, then you have a better shot, but why leave this to chance. Here are some great examples of people that have reached out to me in the past week that employed this technique:
“Saw that you spoke at the AEE conference last month and I really liked the topic of your presentation. I also work with mentoring younger engineers and am interested to hear more of your thoughts on training the next generation of energy engineers.”
or how about this one:
“I’m a recent engineering graduate and am looking into entering the energy efficiency world. I ran across some of your company blog articles and just wanted to connect to learn from a more experienced engineer in the field.”
Finally, if you met someone in person, remind them of that exchange:
“We met at Jesse’s house the other week and spoke about the green financing program you’re working on. Since we’re both in the commercial real estate space, I thought it would be good to connect here and see what opportunities might arise”
TIP #2 – Follow up, aka don’t ghost them
On a daily basis, I will get connection requests from engineering students without giving me a “How or Why”.
Since part of my mission is to help guide some of these engineers, I write back to them instead of just ignoring them. My stock message just asks them to tell me a bit more about themselves or their engineering interests and also what it was about my background or experience that made them reach out to me.
Honestly, pretty much ANY ANSWER will do. I really don’t care specifically what area of engineering they have an interest in or why they want to connect with me. However, it is important to me to help teach them this lesson so that they can use these techniques for potential future connections.
Not to toot my own horn, but not everyone is as nice as me and gives them this second chance.
However, I am always surprised by the number of these potential connectors that never respond to my message. If you thought I’d be a valuable addition to your network, then why wouldn’t you respond? It’s not my job to chase after you, so make sure you respond if a potential connection is giving you an opening.
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