These days, a lot of networking happens over email. You know someone who knows someone that would be good for you to talk to, so you request an email introduction. Sounds simple enough, right? Not so fast.
There are plenty of ways—some better than others—to connect with a new contact via email, and you need to consider all parties involved: the person seeking the connection, the person making the introduction, and the person on the receiving end.
This post is the first in a three-part series on dos and don’ts for social-impact professionals who find themselves in any of these positions. In this first post, we'll help you navigating how to ask a contact to connect you to another member of their network.
Be clear about what you want
Help your contacts help you by being clear about the kinds of jobs you’re interested in or the kinds of people with whom you want to connect.
We’ve all amassed connections from prior jobs, school, volunteering, and other activities; being specific about what you’re looking for helps people filter among their network to determine who may be able to help you. For example, “I’m looking for guidance on whether to pursue a master’s in public policy or a master’s in social work” is going to be a lot more useful to them than “I’m looking for graduate school advice.”
Also, be clear about what you’re asking of the people with whom you connect. Do you want to do an informational interview? Perhaps you’re interested in asking a few questions about their organization’s work environment? Would you like them to flag your resume for someone they know is hiring? Your contact will be more willing to make the introduction if they know precisely what you’ll be requesting from their contact.
Once you’ve figured out your ask, find the right template on Idealist Careers and get the conversation started.
Be the first to respond
You’re the one who requested the connection, so once your mutual contact sends that first email, show initiative by being the first to respond. It’s also worth noting that since you know what you’re seeking, you’re in the best position to move the conversation forward.
Pro Tip: When you respond, move your contact to the BCC (blind carbon copy) line so your connector can see things are moving forward without getting caught in the subsequent email exchange. They’ll appreciate you saving their inbox from multiple emails about when and where to meet.
Here’s a sample response you can send after your contact makes the e-introduction:
“John, thanks for the connection! FYI, I’m moving you to BCC so you don’t get caught in our email exchange going forward.
Jane, it’s nice to meet you. As John said, I’d love to hear more about how you’ve built your career in environmental issues because I’m considering that career path myself. Could we find 20-30 minutes in the next week or two to chat over the phone? I’m happy to work around your schedule if you could let me know some dates and times that work for you.”
Help them help you
In the above example, note the specific ask (“can we talk on the phone for 20-30 minutes?”) and the offer to work around their schedule. Both of these things make it easier for the person helping you, which makes it more likely that they’ll say yes.
Other ways to make things easier for your new contact:
- Send your resume in advance so they can get a sense of your background and experience. Before you send your resume, brush up on the latest Idealist Careers resume tips and resources to make sure it’s in good shape.
- Do your research before an informational interview. Don’t waste your interviewee’s time by asking basic questions such as what their organization does or what kind of graduate degree they chose. Instead, do your homework just like you would for a job interview.
- Prepare questions in advance. Since you requested the connection, the other person will expect you to "drive" the conversation, and preparing questions in advance will help to keep things moving. Check out the post above for sample questions to ask during an informational interview.
Send thank-you notes
After you’ve met or spoken with your new contact, send an email thanking them for their time and helpful advice. To make the note more personal, mention something you’ve done as a result of their advice, such as subscribing to a blog they recommended, exploring a graduate program, or reaching out to a contact at another organization.
And don’t forget to circle back with the person who made the introduction in the first place! They’ll appreciate hearing that they have been helpful. Here’s a quick example:
Thanks again for connecting me with [NAME OF PERSON]. We spoke last week, and our conversation was very helpful as I consider my next career step. [You can add some more detail here about the advice they gave you, such as, “[NAME OF PERSON] suggested that I check out a few niche job sites in our field, and I’ve already seen some promising postings there” or “[NAME OF PERSON] gave me some good food for thought as I consider whether to attend graduate school full time or part time.”]
I appreciate your generosity in making the connection. I’ll keep you posted on how things are going, and please don’t hesitate to be in touch if I can ever help with anything!
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As a nonprofit advocacy professional living in Washington, D.C., Deborah works with groups across the country to educate their communities and lawmakers about public policies that can help low-income residents make ends meet. She is passionate about helping people connect their interests to a cause they believe in and empowering them to take action.