How to Reach Out to People You Don’t Know … Yet

by Cheryl Hyatt

A healthy network is a growing network. Successful professionals are constantly cultivating new connections and keeping in touch with individuals they’ve collaborated with. When an opportunity to connect with someone new presents itself, don’t hesitate to take it.

When reaching out to someone new, your approach matters. The tone you strike and method you use can make the difference between an annoying cold-call that’s rebuffed and a valued new colleague. We’ve all received calls that feel like impositions, not invitations. Through being strategic, you can make outreach a positive experience for both parties.

The most effective way to grow your network is to utilize your current network. Consider your connections. Do you and the individual you are seeking to connect with have any colleagues in common? One you’ve identified a shared connection, evaluate the nature of your relationship. Is this someone you work with regularly or rarely see? Have your interactions been positive and mutual?

Once you’ve decided that the relationship is one you can appropriately call on, here are five ways to proceed:

Ask for an introduction. If it is a close colleague, ask if they would be willing to make an introduction. The more personal and intentional you can be with your request, the better. Best practice is to pick up the phone and have a conversation. Be clear about what you are requesting. For example: “I’m hoping to collaborate on a community development project with DuPaul’s student outreach group. Would you feel comfortable introducing me to Dr. Ravin via email?”

Ask if you can use their name. If asking for an introduction feels unwarranted given the situation, consider asking their perspective on the connection you’re seeking to foster and asking if you can use their name. This requires very little from them and can open doors for you.

Consider the medium. Your objective should inform the channel you use to connect. More personal is usually preferable. In many situations a phone call is best, allowing you to show your personality and establish rapport. In other situations a targeted email is ideal. As you assess the situation, give particular attention to the recipient and how they prefer to operate. Don’t reach out through LinkedIn to someone who hasn’t been active on the platform in years.

Be genuine. The goal is to make a connection. When you do reach out, allow your professionalism, warmth and values to shine through. Introduce yourself, noting the points of correspondence in your network and in your values and goals. Be clear what you are asking for. Show them the respect and thoughtfulness you would want others to use with you.

Say thank you. You should express your appreciation to anyone who made an introduction directly and personally. This shouldn’t be an afterthought; be specific and intentional about expressing your gratitude. After your interaction with your new connection, thank them for their time and the opportunity to interface. You should say thanks whether or not the interaction leads to anything further. Leaving a positive impression is always worthwhile.

Finally, to have a healthy, growing network it’s vital that you are someone who invests in others. You should make an effort to give more than you take. Make introductions that will benefit others. Share valuable articles. Offer to write references and endorsements. Reciprocity benefits the community at large and will rebound to you for years to come.

With more than 20 years of executive-search consulting experience, Cheryl Hyatt, of Hyatt-Fennell Executive Search, has been responsible for successfully recruiting senior-administrative professionals for educational and nonprofit organizations. Her breadth of experience, knowledge and contacts makes her sought after professionally in her field. Hyatt has written articles and presented to various nonprofit groups. She sits on various local nonprofit boards, offering a variety of expertise to each organization.

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