Why Networking is a Lot Like Dating: The Courtship

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image source: comefillyourcup.com

Old School Courtship image source: comefillyourcup.com

Courtship [kawrt-ship, kohrt-

noun

  1. the wooing of one person by another.
  2. the period during which such wooing takes place.

In other words: the period of a time you spend dating, trying to figure out whether or not you think that the relationship will go long term. The courtship is the most exhilarating and exciting part of the dating timeline, but it can also be filled with confusion and anxiety. Similarly, when trying to cultivate a networking relationship with a dream employer, it’s difficult to navigate the social niceties without shooting yourself in the foot.

Let’s go back to the dating example. It’s the day after a successful first date; there was great conversation, delicious food and most importantly, a connection. You sent a text that night saying that you had a great time. Now what? “Should I call him/her? Is it too soon? What if they think I’m annoying?” Not surprisingly, these are similar to the questions I get from clients after they have a successful informational interview. “When should I follow up? Will they think I’m annoying? I don’t want to come off too needy.”

Since my last post, we know that the first step to keeping the networking relationship alive is to send an email thanking the person (scroll to the bottom of the link) for their time and citing conversation bits you found especially helpful and/or interesting. I would also suggest including a closing sentence that says you’ll update them on your progress over the next few weeks/months. Like dating, it’s easier and feels less awkward to follow up with somebody when you have a reason to and it confirms that you were actively listening at the meeting.

Dating example: “Hey Kelly, Are you free Thursday night? You said you love 90’s movies when we met and they’re playing Terminator 2: Judgment Day at the Hatch Shell, want to go?” Why yes, mystery man, I would (but seriously, I would).

Networking example: “Dear Amelia, Thank you again for taking the time to talk to me a few weeks back. I took your advice and followed up with Fred in accounting. He gave me some great insight on how to navigate the finance job market at some of the larger firms and much of what he said complimented the advice you gave me. I’ll be certain to keep in touch with you as I continue my job search and I appreciate all of your help thus far. If you have other suggestions for me or hear of an opportunity that may be a good fit, I’d appreciate it if you kept me in mind. Thanks again!”

While the thank you email should be sent within 24 hours of your initial networking meeting, your follow up is dependent on you. If you met with Fred just a week after meeting with Amelia, it’s fine to follow up with Amelia after speaking to Fred, and in fact, I’d highly suggest that you do, even if it’s only been a week. Use your common sense and just don’t be a stalker. Follow up with Amelia in 4-6 weeks after your Fred email to update her on your progress from there. It doesn’t have to be a long email, just a short, check-in.

Image source: www.condenaststore.com

Image source: www.condenaststore.com

Although it may seem slightly redundant and simple, following up is the most important part of the networking relationship for a few reasons. First, it keeps you fresh in their mind in case something opens up or if they hear of anything elsewhere that they think you’d be a good fit for. Second it demonstrates politeness and professionalism. Now that you’ve had a solid conversation and a of couple email exchanges, they’ll feel more comfortable vouching for you. Finally, it gets the person to care, even just a little bit more, about your career. People generally like the feeling of helping out somebody else- thanking them and following up confirms that they were helpful. The goal is to get them invested in your career so you have them as a lifelong contact. Amelia is probably feeling pretty good about herself at this point.

All in all, the key to the courtship phase of the networking/dating relationship is to follow up! Just use your common sense and don’t be rude about it. You wouldn’t ask somebody to be your boyfriend or girlfriend without going on multiple dates first, so don’t expect that your contact is going to go out on a limb for you and hand you a job right away. Like any relationship, it takes time to foster and grow. Your network should serve as an information resource and it’s important to be patient and know that not everything is in your (or their) control when it comes to the job market. Embrace Forrest Gump-esque serendipity and know that most people are willing to help, but you need to do the work.

Going to the chapel and we’re going to get married. Final post of the series next week: Let’s Go Steady.

How have you followed up with your networking contact? Has anyone ever connected you to somebody that’s helped land you a full-time position or internship?

Kelly Scott is Assistant Director of Career Development and Social Media Outreach at Northeastern University. A social media enthusiast and Gen Y, she enjoys writing about workplace culture and personal online branding. For more career insight, follow/tweet her at @kellydscott4.

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