Every day, ambitious people take their problems straight to the top--asking for help, favors and "a few minutes" of time from CEOs and company leaders, most of whom they have never met before. Of course, networking is all about putting yourself out there--but it's important to remember that making a nuisance of yourself is no way to win friends and influence people.
The CEOs and leaders I talk to often get 20 to 30 unsolicited requests a week--for advice, jobs or partnerships--and many of these come from people with whom they have no connection or a shallow one at best. Pitching products and partnerships without any thought to how these will benefit the targeted company or individual can do more harm than good.
Naturally, ambitious people want to get the attention of people with power and influence--and that can mean being assertive. I frequently reach out to busy people who should not have time for me and succeed in connecting nonetheless--because as in so much of business, execution is everything. When you ask someone for help, advice or an opportunity, keep these seven tips in mind.
1. Don't overshoot the mark.
Most of the time, going straight to the top is not going to be the right move. To make a useful connection at any company, begin by finding the right person to talk to. If you are selling IT services, target someone in operations. If you are pitching an applicant tracking system, target HR or culture. Then, find a way to make it worth that person's while to connect with you.
2. Do your research, and personalize your request.
Have you made an effort to find out how this organization works, who does what, and what's important to the person you are contacting? Going in blind is a sure way to get ignored. No one wants to go the extra mile for someone who wants his time but hasn't demonstrated a willingness to invest her own time first.
3. Offer something in return.
What benefit can you provide to the person or company you are contacting? I have found that I get my best results when I stick with the principle outlined by Keith Ferrazzi in his book Never Eat Alone: Create value for others first or find the win-win. For instance, when I ask for a book endorsement, I always show the person where I have promoted his or her work in the past, and I note ways I think I can help in areas I have found (based on research) are important to that contact.
4. Make it easy for people to help you.
Offer to do any legwork required to fulfill your request. If you want an introduction, you might provide a paragraph the person could use for that purpose--something your contact can just cut and paste into an email.
5. Be clear about what you want, and don't hide behind the word "partnership."
If you want a partnership, outline the reciprocal benefits upfront. I find most people who reach out to me about "partnerships" just want to sell stuff to my company or my clients. No thanks. That's not a partnership, that's a bait and switch. If you explain that you want to refer business to my company instead, you are likely to get that meeting.
6. Don't ask for a meeting tomorrow or the next day.
This tactic is a favorite of salespeople because they love to have a concrete ask, but it rubs many people the wrong way. Most successful, well-organized people fill their calendars months in advance; they can't make free time on short notice. It makes a better impression to ask for a meeting "at your convenience."
7. Stop asking people to find you a job.
There is a perception that busy executives with good networks pay attention to who is hiring and for what outside their company. Nothing could be further from the truth, and asking someone you don't know well or with whom you have been out of touch to "look out for a job for you" is a self-serving request. Instead, do the homework yourself and approach your contacts with specific and relevant asks that have mutual benefit. For example, point out a role that someone important to them is looking to fill and suggest that a warm intro to you could make them look good.
High-level executives and other successful people with a lot of demands on their schedules need to be selective about who gets their attention. Seeking a connection that's all about you and your goals is a recipe for failure. If you want to get ahead, do your research, think about the other person's time and needs, and make a great first impression.