Q: I want to build my network and have asked people I know to introduce me to other professionals. But after three months, nobody has provided any introductions. What can I do to improve my success?
A: Great networking is an art with a little bit of science sprinkled on top. There isn’t a formula, checklist or handbook that will guarantee success. But there are approaches that are key to building a strong professional network. The savvy networking professional is appreciative, strategic, humble, thoughtful, fearless and service oriented. S/he also understands that people are very busy. And no matter how much a person may want to help you, there is maintenance involved in doing so. So if the task is too time consuming or cumbersome … it will get left behind. And so will you.
You have gone three months without an introduction from your existing network—so something is not working. In order to course-correct, review your emails and/or verbal messaging, and try and assess them as objectively as possible (or ask a friend for an honest opinion). What’s your tone? Is your message thoughtful or lazy? Do you come off as entitled? Are you clear about what you’re asking for? How high maintenance is your request? Are you following up graciously?
Next … remember that people are busy. And the greater the effort it takes to help, the less likely it will happen. So, make their effort as easy as possible. Below are the key ways to do so:
Know Who You’d Like To Add.
I counsel scores of lawyers on creating effective networking strategies to maximize job opportunities and very few are clear about the type of professionals they’d like to add … and why. Without such clarity, you create an immediate disadvantage and challenges will arise that will thwart your effort. So before you lift a keyboard finger, take pen to paper (or keyboard to Word) and make a list of the profiles of people you’d like to add to your network. To do so, ask yourself the following questions:
- What kind of role (type of practice and title) am I willing to consider?
- What industry(ies) will I focus on?
- What type of executives would be best for maximizing my exposure to opportunities that fit those profiles? CEO, CFO, COO, GCs, HR, VCs, PE, In House Counsel, Law Firm Partner, Recruiters, Alums?
After you’ve answered these questions, make a list of people you know and who are in your current network that are best suited to assist you with specific introductions to specific execs. Now you have the beginnings of your roadmap and are ready to proceed.
Be Clear About Your Ask.
Most professionals either beat around the bush or aren’t clear about what type of help they want. So be specific. Here’s an example: “Molly, it was great seeing you at the ABA event. I wanted to reach out because I’m building my network to include high quality bank finance in house counsel as part of my business development plan for 2017. I know that you are active and well regarded in this community. To the extent you feel comfortable, I would welcome the opportunity for an introduction to a person or two you think would be great for me to know.”
As soon as people start feeling pressure, they start feeling resentment. So steer clear of entitlement and aggressive tones. Instead, acknowledge their busy schedule, express appreciation and don’t box them in on any timeline. The less pressure they feel, the more likely they are to help.
No Tricks or False Promises.
Don’t pretend you have something to offer someone in your network in order to get her/him to do a favor for you in the form of an introduction (i.e., offering a new case or transaction deal, possible referrals, opportunities etc.). People can see those motives a mile away and they’ll end up making you look bad. People often use this approach when they feel uncomfortable asking for assistance. But there are more virtuous ways of easing ones anxiety around asking for help. So keep things open and honest and you’ll feel much better about the situation and yourself.
Write the Introduction for Them.
It takes time and thought to introduce two professionals-even if the introduction is brief. So there is maintenance to the exercise. Because of this, people often procrastinate on completing this task, which can increase the risk your important introduction will disappear into the ether. By writing the introduction yourself, you make the task easy. Example:
“Claire, I’m starting to think about my next move and as part of that effort, I’m building my network of VCs. To the extent you believe there is someone who would be great for me to know, I would sincerely appreciate an introduction. I know you are busy and introductions create more work, so I’ve provided some language (below) that you are welcome to use if the opportunity arises. Many thanks! Beatrice
Hi ________, I hope all is well. I wanted to introduce you to Beatrice Lam. Beatrice currently serves as the #2 lawyer for Company XYZ. Prior to this role she was a partner at Law Firm Q where she and I worked together as associates. Beatrice is interested in GC opportunities with private companies and as part of her search effort, she is building her network with high quality VCs. Given your impressive background and occasional GC needs for your portfolio companies, I thought it would be great for you to know one another. I have cc’d Beatrice so she may correspond with you directly. Warmest Regards, Claire
Many legal professionals dread networking … mainly because they are unfamiliar with the best ways to ask for what they want. So they use approaches that compromise their efforts with results that speak for themselves. Effective networkers are made, not born. So go easy on yourself. Learn from your mistakes and continue the practice. And you’ll be on your way to master class networking in no time.
Julie Brush is the founder and author of The Lawyer Whisperer (www.thelawyerwhisperer.com), a career advice column for legal professionals, also found on LinkedIn. She is co-founder of Solutus Legal Search, a legal search/consulting boutique firm, serving as a strategic adviser to lawyers, law firms and corporations.