I have a couple of questions about networking that I was hoping you could help me with. I am pretty good at walking up to people and networking with them these days. I also message people on LinkedIn asking for chats.
But I struggle to turn network connections into something deeper and more long lasting. For example, how do I ask someone out for lunch so that we can get to know more about each other? How do I turn a professional connection that I just made into a more personal connection?
I read Bob Iger’s book The Ride of a Lifetime and I am a huge fan of the relationship between him and Steve Jobs. Do you have suggestions on how to make network connections like that?
Dear Networking Newbie,
I love this question so much. Thank you! You are asking about something that seems to be a great mystery to most people. Certainly, my own connections on LinkedIn need to hear the answer.
I had to immediately get Bob Iger’s book and read it, so thanks for that, too!
The very short answer is that to develop relationships you have to get extremely interested in people. And it wouldn’t hurt to be interesting yourself. This isn’t as hard as it sounds—all it means is knowing what your interests are and being serious about pursuing them.
Let me explain. Bob Iger and Steve Jobs ended up with an amazing relationship because they respected each other and were interested in a lot of the same things. They ended up finding ways to work together that mutually benefitted both parties, and they helped each other achieve their goals.
Each individual knew who he was, what was important to him, and what was his goals were. So your first step is to decide those things for yourself. Who are you? What do you love? What is important to you? What are your goals? What do you have to share that can benefit others? These are huge questions that will probably take you a little while to answer. Okay—a lifetime, probably. But you can make a good start.
Let’s start with the easiest one, maybe—your goals. When you know what your goals are, you can make an action plan by creating milestones and action steps. Then you can ask people for advice or for specific help.
People love to give advice. (Hello! I love it so much that I write an advice column!) But seriously, they do. Find people who do jobs you want to do, ask them for 15 minutes on the phone, and send them questions you want them to answer. Make the questions interesting and fun, such as: How did you know you wanted to be ______ (fill in the blank)? What is the biggest obstacle you have ever had to overcome? What one thing do wish you had known when you started out? My son did this with heavy hitters in his industry and got tons of takers for calls and three coffee dates.
People also love to help people but they often don’t have a clear way to do so. Having clear goals gives you an opportunity to ask for very specific kinds of help. You may recall in Bob Iger’s book that his dad asked his roommate in the hospital, who was bragging about what a big deal he was at a TV network, if he could get his son a job interview. He sensed that the guy saw himself as a big shot and was eager to show off how true that was. Bob got a job interview, and it was the start of his career in network TV.
Who do you need to meet? Ask your network if anyone knows that person and can make an introduction. What do you want to know more about? Find people in your network who can teach you something. I was recently at a family reunion and one of my husband’s cousins tracked me down and asked for my salad dressing recipe. I couldn’t have been happier to share, and now we have a bond.
Back when I was an actress, I learned about the power of having a clear goal. I was a member of a great organization called The Actors Information Project, which taught actors to act more like responsible business people. They made us set clear goals beyond just please, God, help me get a job. My goal was to be in a Sondheim musical on Broadway. I told everyone I met that that was my goal. Sure enough, a total stranger I met at a party was a friend of a woman who was casting A Little Night Music. When I said I would die and go to heaven to have a shot at the role of Petra the maid, he agreed it would be a great role for me and said he would be willing to pass on my picture and resume. If I had just said I was an actress looking for work, it wouldn’t have been compelling and he wouldn’t have known how to help me. My agent had also submitted me—but when the casting director got my resume from her friend, I did get an audition (and a call back, not to brag). The whole production was scrapped and I can’t remember why, but you get my point. Also, I kept the guy who helped me in the loop and sent him a thank-you note.
You don’t just want success, you want specific success. That’s how people find a handle on how they can help you. Don’t worry about missing out by being too specific. The specificity gets things going, and then opportunities come that might not be exactly what you wanted—often they are even better.
What do you care about? For example, I connect with people about food and novels, both things I am passionate about. I have buddies online with whom I discuss recipes and the latest book by Geraldine Brooks or Isabel Allende. Whatever it is, find small points of connection on which you can build. On LinkedIn, post questions people are going to want to respond to because they are interested in the topic, such as What is the best book on networking? (I can answer that one—I highly recommend you read everything by the expert on the topic: Keith Ferrazzi. His biggest hit was Never Eat Alone. He will expand on everything I am saying here.) Or What is the worst thing a boss can do to an employee? Or What is your favorite app? Or What is the absolute best hiking boot? Or Does anyone know anyone who works at Patagonia?
I am just throwing out ideas here; you will, of course, have to tailor your questions to your interests. This will help you find people with common interests. You can start conversations online and then maybe move to a phone or Zoom call.
This brings me to more straightforward ideas like either finding Meetup groups of people who love what you love, or starting one yourself. And most cities have actual networking groups where they only accept one person in a given industry or business. The deal is that they all send each other business. That might be more appropriate for someone who is an entrepreneur. There are also lots of Mastermind groups for people who share professional interests—always a great source of real connection.
As you review your connections online, do some research on the people who interest you so it appears that you care about them. Think about what you know that is worth sharing with others, and answer other people’s questions. This will help you find people who might be able to add value to you, as you do the same for them. I find that people who locate me on social media don’t bother doing any research at all and try to sell me things I am not remotely interested in. For example, my job title is Chief Coaching Officer, I have been in the coaching industry for 33 years, and people try to sell me coach training. That is just lazy. But if someone sent me a compelling question about coaching, I might be inclined to respond. (Maybe not, because I just don’t spend enough time on social media, but I suspect that is generational.)
The other thing to think about is staying in close touch with anyone you do meet with whom you have some kind of connection. Send funny memes you think they might like, share book recommendations, or ask for their opinion on the latest Netflix series. Anything that makes sense. I interview high school kids who are applying to my alma mater and I am always a little surprised that none of them bother to stay in touch. They fail to realize that I might be able to make an introduction for them when they are looking for their first job.
A bit of a firehose, I know. But, I did say I loved the question, and I hope this gives you a place to start.
Let me know how it goes!
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.