Q: I want to contact the VP of Marketing of a tech company in my area. I’ve never met the guy, and I don't know anyone who can introduce us. How can I manage to reach this person through networking, when I don’t have any connections to him?
A: First you'll need to find out as much as you can about his company. If it's publicly owned, check out its annual report. Look for articles about it in business publications. Use Linkedin and Facebook to see if anyone in your network knows people who work at the company. Ask local business reporters or professors about their insights on the company.
Then, when you have plenty of information, plan how you will reach out. Given everything you know about the company, what piece of information is most interesting to you? Then try to imagine what this VP would find most intriguing. What are his hot-button issues? Based on your reading, can you identify any solutions for his current or long-term problems? Have you had any similar experiences that might be useful to him? Can you send him any articles or studies you have seen that would give him food for thought?
After you've done some brainstorming, select several key "hooks" you believe would intrigue him enough to follow up with you. Then start your email or Linkedin message something like this: "This is (your name). I've been doing quite a bit of research lately on the tech field, and (company name) keeps emerging as an exceptionally well-managed company. Having recently returned from establishing my company's industrial product lines in Asia, I’d love to discuss some of the challenges you’ve experienced managing your growth. I have some preliminary ideas about how our two companies might form a mutually beneficial joint venture where the sum would definitely be greater than the parts.”
Granted, the VP doesn't know you, but you've likely captured his attention. And the nice thing about connecting via email or social media is that since the medium is less personal and time consuming than, say, a phone call, it costs this VP less to respond. Then, if you genuinely have something to offer him, you can eventually talk on the phone or meet in person, solidifying the connection.
The key lesson to take from this exchange is that you are more likely to make a networking connection if you reach out to a person with something to offer. Just sending a Linkedin message introducing yourself and asking to chat isn’t enough – you need to show how your relationship will add value.
Once the VP expresses interest in hearing your ideas, you’ll need to decide what to say as a follow up. Since you initiated the relationship, it is your responsibility to set the agenda. You need to ensure that it will be mutually productive, which means preparing well-researched, intelligent questions for each message you send. Don't waste valuable time with queries you can easily answer on your own.
If you’re trying to change careers, ask your contact about his insights into his career and company, as well as his description of the skills and personality traits he believes are necessary to succeed in his industry. Tell him a little about your background and why you’re interested in switching to his industry. Ask for feedback on whether his career would be a good match for you. Find out how he would proceed to move into the field, if he were you.
If you’re only changing jobs and not entire career paths, concentrate on asking about your contact’s company – its culture, philosophy and plans for the future. Find out from your contact about his career with the organization. Ask if he thinks your background would be a good fit for his company, or if you could add value by bringing new skills and perspectives to the table. Determine if there are other key people you should be contacting at the company if you want to get a job there.
Whether you are investigating the possibility of a position or a contact with a particular company, or trying to get an overview of a career or industry, always consider how your conversation can be beneficial for both parties. By keeping your contact's best interests at heart you will create a win-win situation for the two of you and pave the way for other collaborative networkers as well.
After your meeting, always follow up with a thank you note. Sending a note is more than just a polite afterthought. It puts your name in front of your contact again, gives you a forum for saying what you plan to do next, and reminds your new acquaintance that you value her time and insight. Whether your thank you note is the final chapter in a brief networking association or the bridge to a more permanent relationship, it reflects your genuine concern for others and your superior understanding of netiquette.