On the heels of the generalist series there has been some inbound requests from friends and colleagues for career advice. The next few entries will outline a networking approach to gain entry and credibility when entering a new field. First, here's the skeleton of the e-mail template that I’ve used to get in conversations with truly wonderful people that have had a profound impact on my career.
Dear PERSON OF INTEREST,
WARM INTRODUCTION NAME suggested we should meet because of REASON YOU ARE GREAT. I am QUICK BACKGROUND and looking to advance in DESIRED FIELD. Would you be willing to spend 30 minutes with me to share your story: what you do and how you got there?
Thank you so much for considering,
YOUR NAME HERE
That’s it, works almost all the time. Now let’s break it down part by part to understand what is included and what is intentionally excluded.
This one is a challenge starting out but gets easier over time. A warm introduction, a reference from someone else in your mutual network, is crucial to get this person’s attention and ensure your legitimacy. Additionally, this applies very mild social pressure so that they do not ignore you. No one wants a colleague to follow up with “why didn’t you respond to so and so!?” and remember, the utilization and expansion of a network grows its value.
What if you don’t know anyone? With LinkedIn and other social media, it is easier than ever to understand who you know and who they know. If you are persistent and pleasant, these conversations can start almost anywhere and chain you to almost anyone you’d like to meet. A word of caution, never fake an introduction if you don’t have one. It is dishonest, unethical, and easily disproved. Expect the recipient to check with the referrer before responding.
Reason you are great:
A quick summary of your understanding of their expertise. Flattery never hurts, especially powerful people. Examples include: “your success in health tech.” The important part of this sentence is that it is about their greatness, NOT YOUR NEEDS. By being self-centered you give your recipient a guilt-free excuse to not do something nice for you.
Quick background/Desired Field:
Self-explanatory, keep it brief. “I am a medical student looking to get into entrepreneurship SO THAT I can improve care in this country.” This establishes your value and interest without spending too long on yourself. Do not inquire about specific roles, jobs, internships, etc. for reasons that will become clear in a moment.
This is the hook of this email. Most messages contain requests for favors which, other than being rude, fail two basic tests of action: First, there may be no makeable deal. If you ask for a job and there is no job, then the answer is at best an apologetic “no” and the close of communication. Second, you’ve failed to appeal to the recipient’s self-interest in your request. However, due to the Ben Franklin Effect you still want to ask for something, and this is where the story idea comes through. One of the best pieces of advice that I ever received was to listen to everyone’s life story, decide which ones appeal to you most, and then spend as much time with those people as possible. It is an ingenuous, genuine method of learning about others and one’s self. Furthermore, everyone loves to share their version of their story! They are rarely asked (or not often enough!). You appeal to your recipient’s desire to teach, share and contribute which is a very powerful force. Additionally, you will begin to see patterns of action and sequences of events and the incredible role of capitalizing on luck that plays into success. By limiting it to 30 min you are minimizing the burden.
Now, what happens if they agree? Easy—schedule whatever time they give you. Early, late, weekends, whatever. Again, this is about them, not you, so make it work however you can. Someone once asked me for a favor and then complained that the availability I offered them THE NEXT DAY was “too early in the morning for them” (7am local time!!). Needless to say, that was not a productive relationship. Also, block at least a 30 minute post call buffer in case it runs long (which is always good), for you to write a thank you email, consolidate your notes, and predictably, send the emails to the next set of individuals in the chain recommended by your recipient.
So now that you have the meeting scheduled, what are the possible outcomes? Best case scenario- you find a mutual match, you get along well, the story is thrilling and a wonderful relationship begins. This is extremely rare, but don’t worry, you only need one or a few of these relationships in your whole career. Rarely, there is no magic, you don’t get along and the call ends in a dead end. Oh well, thank you note away! The most likely outcome is that your new colleague will suggest 1-5 people to whom you should speak next. When I started this journey I was lucky enough to get 10 recommendations (!!) from an early meeting which changed the course of my career. If they offer contact information, great, if not don’t ask. Don’t make them do work, you can figure out an email address or LinkedIn profile. Do ask if you can use their name as WARM INTRODUCTION. And on and on you go!
You may need 5 conversations, you may need 75 (I did), but persist in this method and you will develop lifelong, mutually productive relationships with mentors and colleagues. Good luck!
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