Last week we touched upon the social/in person approach to networking, or what I referred to as “happenstance”, where you meet somebody by chance or ideally, purposely put yourself in situations where you could potentially meet somebody that shares similar interests (networking event, student group, you get it).
Well, congratulations! You have now graduated to “the blind approach” and “online dating/networking,” so let’s get this party started.
Let’s start with the networking equivalent to online dating: LinkedIn. So you’re on OKCupid, or Match.com and you’re browsing profiles, looking for people with similar interests that catch your eye (Tinder is too shallow for this, sorry). Let’s just point out the obvious: you’re not looking for your life partner. Yes, that person may very well be your soul mate, but for now you’re just looking for a nice date and some good food. You find a suitable match; you send them a message and wait. LinkedIn acts very similarly, but instead of looking for potential future exes, you’re looking for people who either work in a place you’re interested in working, or in a position that you’re interested in learning more about.
Let me reiterate, you’re not looking for somebody to give you a job, but just trying to connect, learn about, and ask for advice from somebody in the industry. Just like on the first date you wouldn’t ask somebody to be your bf/gf, you wouldn’t ask for a job during an informational interview– which is what these are called btw (if you don’t know what that is, I suggest you click the link above). Networking– like dating– can be a slow process, you have to invest the time and energy to learn more about that person and company. Then with luck and timing, it generally blossoms into something better.
Let’s say you are interested in working for Google. Assuming your LI profile is sparkling and up-to-date, you decide to do an advanced people search and type “Northeastern” into the school and “Google” into the company section. Your search reveals that you actually have 3 first degree connections, and 15 second degree connections! (Who knew Aunt Sally had a friend that works at Google?) So you browse their profiles to determine which person’s profile appeals to you and who you think would be best to talk to in order to learn more about Google. Pretty standard and the process is not too dissimilar from perusing OKCupid profiles.
The Career Development website actually has a guide and language you can use to help you draft a message to a person you may not know that well (or at all). Also, check the calendar for “LinkedIn 2: Advanced Networking” workshops, which run every other week to give you a more in depth look into how to navigate LinkedIn to connect with people.
So you send your message, and you wait. Good for you! You’ve “blindly approached” somebody online! And similar to online dating, feel free to follow up after a couple weeks if somebody doesn’t respond. Maybe they didn’t get your message. Just don’t be a stalker and follow up 3 hours later. Desperation is never attractive.
PS: if you are doing this at a networking event or family party, the same rules apply! Don’t forget to ask for a business card and tell them you’ll follow up and keep them posted, that way they expect to hear from you.
Have you ever blindly approached somebody for an informational interview? If so, what advice do you have for others? If not, what are your reservations?
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.