Fear of rejection is a powerful inhibitor. If you’ve let a lot of time pass, it can be uncomfortable to reach out to people to ask for something. Now you need a job, an introduction, a recommendation and someone you haven`t spoken to in a long time is in a position to help, but you’ll feel like a schmuck if you contact them now. You worry that they will think you’re just trying to use them. Even worse, you know that using them is exactly what you’re trying to do.
In my experience, most people don’t reach out to that old contact. They let the opportunity pass and the relationship wither further. This is a big mistake for two reasons. First, most people are happy to help people they have some positive association with, even if a substantial amount of time has passed. Put yourself in their shoes. You haven’t spoken to your college roommate in a while, or that former colleague you used to joke around with. If they called you up and asked for a reasonable favor, wouldn’t you be inclined to help? People are more understanding than you think. Adults lead busy lives and don’t have the time to maintain close or even casual associations with all the people they like. That doesn`t mean they don`t care and wouldn`t be happy to help.
The second factor that should motivate you to get over your concerns is that referrals and personal introductions will open doors and give you a leg up on competition. The greater the number of people you reach out to, the more opportunities you create for yourself.
Here are some tips to help you refresh old connections and unlock the power of your network.
1. Cast a Wide Net. Develop a broad list of people you’ve met who might help you accomplish your goal. The list should include current and former colleagues, classmates, neighbors, other members of groups or associations you are a part of.
2. Broaden the Net. Double or triple the list you created in step 1. Add the names of people you’ve met and were impressed with, but don’t know well. Add the names of speakers you heard at events. Add friends of friends. Type in the name of the company you’re interested in on LinkedIn and see who you know or have access to at your targeted company. LinkedIn has a nice feature that lets you see which of your contacts knows someone at the company. Add their names to the list.
3. Use Social Media to Get Smart. Google their names to find out if they’ve been quoted or mentioned in articles, received some awards, changed jobs. Friend them on Facebook. Search their profile on LinkedIn
4. Reach Out to Each Name on Your List. This will feel less intimidating now that you are armed with more information about what they’ve been up to. You can lead with congratulations on the quote/new job/windsurfing expedition/witty Facebook comments.
5. Make the Ask and Make It Reasonable
. They’ll figure out very quickly that you aren’t just calling to say ‘Hi’. Don’t worry about it. As long as they have a positive association with you and your ask is reasonable
, they’ll be happy to help. This includes the people you may have met briefly. Just lead with something like “You came to speak to my class in April last year and I was really impressed with your comments on …). Don’t ask for a job. That’s too big of an ask for even the closest of friends. Here are reasonable Asks:
- Time to pick his or her brain on industry trends
- Time to talk about the companies in the industry
- Feedback on the steps you’re planning to pursue an opportunity in their industry/company
- Thoughts on how you might improve your resume to help you stand out as a candidate in their industry
- Suggestions on people you might want to talk to, to deepen your insight on a targeted job or company
- An introduction
Suggest a 20 min phone call or lunch one day.
6. Help Them Help You
Arm them with the information they need to help you.
- Prepare thoughtful questions. Don`t ask questions that are easily answered with a small amount of effort on your part
- Make sure your resume is updated.
- Create or update your LinkedIn profile
- If you are asking them to do an intro, give them a brief paragraph about you they can share with others. The paragraph should highlight a few key points such as accomplishments that point to key skills for a targeted job.
7. Professionalize Your Online Presence
Don`t let your online profile sabotage your job prospects.
Assume that others will Google you and search your profile on sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. Make sure your profile will not embarrass you or hurt you in your objective. Read “Using Social Media to Create Job Leads” in the Advice section for more explicit tips.
Remember, good things come to those who ask.