Unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool genuine extrovert, you probably find networking as tedious and exhausting as I do. It’s one of the primary reasons I hated going to meetups when I was looking for my first job out of Hack Reactor. To me, there’s nothing worse than making inconsequential small talk with someone to see if there’s anything they can offer you, i.e. a job. Next thing I know, I have a stupid, phony conversational grin plastered on my face and this icky feeling of insincerity somewhere around my solar plexus that I imagine is what Holden Caulfield felt throughout the vast majority of The Catcher in the Rye.
That said, if my extensive experience in sales has taught me anything, it’s how to reach out to people via email and LinkedIn like a boss. When it comes to networking etiquette (a.k.a. “netiquette”), I firmly believe that reaching out via writing is the most polite way of approaching someone. Specifically in the entry-level IT job search, it’s likely that the people you’re targeting (yes, “targeting,” because let’s call it what it is) are more senior than you and have busy professional and personal lives to attend to. If they’re the kind of people who want to help you reach the right contact to follow up on that application you recently submitted (or if they’re interested in that referral bonus they get when they source talent for their company), then be respectfully persistent up to about 3 well-timed outreach attempts. Have patience– there’s a good chance they’ll get back to you within one or two follow-ups of your message. However, if they’re not the kind of person who’ll go out on a limb for a young professional trying to get his/her start, then there’s really just nothing you can do except write a killer message. For this reason, good outreach practices can make or break your networking mojo.
I would generally put myself in the former category– if someone is interested in the Home Depot Apprenticeship program, I’ll send their résumé along to our recruiter even if we’re not hiring for it at the moment. When people ask if they can give me a call to ask some questions about Hack Reactor or the post-bootcamp job hunt, I’m happy to take those calls on my commute home or meet up for coffee. Even if someone has an interesting or poignant response to one of my Instagram stories, there’s a solid chance I’ll respond in one way or another.
I am one of those people who will be eternally annoyed and much less likely to help you if you commit any of the following professional faux pas.
Just sending “Hey.” And that’s all.
This is particularly true for both LinkedIn and Instagram. Ask yourself this question before you hit send– is there anything in your message for me to specifically respond to? Any questions you want answers to? No? Then don’t be surprised if you don’t hear back from me. More often than not, I’m stupidly busy and I don’t have time to hold your hand through an outreach conversation with me, assuming that’s what you’re trying to do and you’re not trying to flirt with me (you’d be surprised how often that happens).
And while we’re on the subject, complimenting my appearance is not a conversation starter.
This happens more via Instagram than LinkedIn. Think I’m pretty? Awesome, thanks! I want you to know that I appreciate your opinion and the compliment. You can thank my parents for the genes, my aerial instructors for keeping me in shape, and the variety of skincare products I use for keeping my skin clear. However, like most decent people, I hate being rude and turning people down because I then feel like an asshole. So when I get a message out of the blue from a stranger that says something along the lines of “Wow, you’re sooooo gorgeous 😍”, I don’t respond because the subsequent barrage of compliments/questions inevitably makes me uncomfortable.
A good rule of thumb for flattery: people appreciate acknowledgements of their accomplishments more than compliments on their inherent characteristics. “Good job” >> “You’re pretty.” I love when people genuinely respond to my writing or give me positive feedback on coding projects. I get super stoked when someone likes an outfit I put together. I feel like a badass when people enjoy my aerial performances or public speaking engagements. These are things I have poured hours of thought and effort into getting just right. They are my successes, my accomplishments, my babies. I’d much rather you dig those than my latest selfie.
Tangentially-relevant caveat: you may be asking yourself why I bother posting the things I do on Instagram if I’m not seeking attention. The answer is– duh– I am seeking attention… just not the kind you’re thinking of. One of my long-term goals is to travel the world promoting destinations and products, so a lot of what you see on my profile is me laying the groundwork for an influencer side-hustle and building my portfolio as a high-quality content-creator.
It’s forgivable on Insta, but I find it hard to take people who include smileys and emojis in professional outreach emails or LinkedIn messages seriously. If you want someone to see you as a professional, keep your message professional. Personally, I reserve all conversational emoticons for people I’m already familiar with. If your person responds and uses smileys, then it’s probably safe to take your cue from them and be a bit more casual with a smiley or two (but don’t overdo it). But at first outreach, you never know how seriously they take the networking dance, so it’s always safer to err on the professional side instead of the personal side.
Lastly– for the love of all that is sacred– PROOFREAD IT.
I made you a helpful checklist to help you write an awesome outreach message.
☑️ Do you have periods at the end of your sentences?
☑️ Have you correctly capitalized everything? Pro tip: if it’s not the name of a person, pet, organization, business, place, or the first letter of the sentence, it probably doesn’t need to be capitalized.
☑️ Are your sentences an appropriate length?
☑️ Have you correctly used there/their/they’re, then/than, and your/you’re?
☑️ Are there any red underlines that you need to spellcheck?
☑️ Have you appropriately greeted your prospect at the beginning of your message? Thanked them for their time in advance at the end?
☑️ Have you clearly stated the reason for your message? Asked about what next steps are? Articulated the next steps you’re interested in?
☑️ If you’re asking for a significant chunk of their time, are you clearly and respectfully offering them something in return? (hint: ☕ )
☑️ Did you delete all the smileys and emojis?!
☑️ Have you removed anything that could be construed as flirtatious?
☑️ Have you made sure that autocorrect hasn’t struck again?⚡
☑️ Have you asked your friendly neighborhood grammar nazi to double-check your writing? 😈
</end rant>. Good luck with networking! If you find any typos here, feel free to make fun of me forever.