I'm a big believer in the power of networking, and I genuinely enjoy the chance to meet new people. So, when I see an email from a stranger pop into my inbox, I'm usually excited about the prospect of what's in that message.
But, here's the thing: I don't respond to every single networking message I receive. I know, it sounds cutthroat. And, trust me, I'm more than happy to reply to the ones that are relevant and thoughtful.
So, what about the ones that I don't respond to? What did they do to deserve a spot in my dreaded trash bin? Well, they usually commit one (or, in many cases, all!) of these three common blunders.
1. Your Ask Was Too Vague
Because I write so much advice pertaining to careers and freelancing, I receive numerous emails each week from people who are feeling a little career confused. Usually, they'll share a long-winded story about their current situation and then end with something like this: "Can you help me?"
I sympathize with what those people are feeling -- I've been in this exact spot myself. However, that empathy doesn't change the fact that I have absolutely no idea what they want from me.
Can I help? Help with what, exactly? The options are seemingly limitless.
When reaching out to make a connection and a request from somebody new, make it explicitly clear what you're hoping to get out of that relationship or conversation. That way, both of you know what you're in for.
After all, before someone will be willing to agree to meet up for coffee or chat on the phone, he or she is going to want an idea of what you need -- as well as the reassurance that this will be a productive and focused discussion, rather than a major waste of time.
2. Your Ask Was Too Big
Nobody networks in the hopes of just having another business card in the desk drawer. Nope, you're hoping to get something -- whether it's an introduction, advice, or even a job offer -- out of the exchange.
That's totally understandable. But, here's the thing: You need to be realistic about how much you're expecting out of a networking contact.
I've had people ask me to do everything from read a 500-page manuscript to personally introduce them to one of my editors.
These sorts of requests are far too grandiose, particularly when it's your first time interacting with someone. So, while making an ask is fine -- and even anticipated -- remember to remain somewhat grounded in your expectations.
3. You Didn't Ask for Anything at All
Let's say you've sent a friendly and complimentary email letting someone know how much you admire the work she's doing.
Chances are, she'll appreciate that email. But, will she provide a response? Well, not if you didn't make it clear that you were expecting one.
If you're aiming to get something out of that interaction (and I'm willing to bet you are!), it's important that you include some sort of ask in your very first email -- rather than just filling it with praise or general information.
Yes, it can feel a little direct and forward at first. However, it'll make it clear that you're hoping for a reply.
Whether you want to send along a few questions to be answered or are hoping to get an informational interview scheduled, include your ask at the bottom of your message so that your recipient knows exactly what sort of steps he or she should take next.
In most cases, I'm thrilled to receive networking emails and am more than willing to send off a reply. But, if a message makes one of these far too common mistakes? Chances are good that it will go unanswered.