How To Expand (And Sustain) Your Professional Network

For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of moving to New York City and working for InStyle magazine. My first internship with a magazine here in Lexington only solidified that dream. When I was a sophomore in college I began actively pursuing opportunities outside of Kentucky. When I finally got my internship offer from InStyle – 2 years later! – people sort of assumed I just applied/got lucky/didn’t put in years of work, but that just wasn’t the case. The reality of the situation was my journey with InStyle began long before I got that internship offer last year.

When I was a sophomore I was advised by someone I greatly admire in the media industry to begin building as many connections as possible. She encouraged me to reach out to people to get to know them and learn from them rather than ask them for a job. She was right, because eventually – again, 2 years later – I got in contact with the right person. I emailed hundreds of people over this time period. Not everyone responded. Some people responded once but never again. However, some people went above and beyond offering me advice, the opportunity to chat with them on the phone and even help finding internships. You have to work hard to find these people so I wanted to share my best tips and techniques for reaching out to people on social media/via email in order to grow your professional network.

Do the research & educate yourself.

When it comes to reaching out to professionals for advice, inspiration, job opportunities, etc… you need to be prepared beforehand. If you are genuinely interested in a company/industry/career-path then you should be able to prove it. When I set out to secure an internship in New York City nearly 2 years ago the first thing I did was go through the mastheads of the publications I was interested in working for. I read print and digital content from the various publications and familiarized myself with the work of people who I admired. Not only does this sort of research make you look more professional when you find yourself talking to successful people in your field, it also helps you educate yourself. There’s always more to learn, even if you’re an expert in any given subject. For example, the magazine/media industry is rapidly changing so it’s important to be in the know at all times. For example, I was once asked what I had recently read about a certain publishing company in the news. They wanted me to prove that I was paying attention to the industry, specifically their role in it. If you’ve taken the time to do the research you won’t be caught off guard by that type of question.

Social media – when used appropriately – is your friend.

Once you’ve done the research and are ready to reach out to people in your industry, it’s time to get your hands on their contact information. LinkedIn is a great tool for this but not everyone lists their email address on their public page. Once you’ve done the best you can with LinkedIn, it’s always a good idea to try social media bios. A lot of people put their email addresses in their bios on Instagram and Twitter. Additionally, if they don’t have an email but have a personal website listed be sure to check that site for one. After you’ve tried everything else, try contacting people via social media direct messaging.

When it comes to sending a DM on Twitter or Instagram you need to tread carefully. In some ways it’s an unprofessional method of reaching out so it’s good to acknowledge that in your message. Additionally, this trick won’t work for every industry so you have to decide whether or not it is appropriate based on what field you’re interested in. Be sure to keep these messages short and sweet. See below for an example of a message I sent to a professional in the magazine industry:

 

** TIP: Some companies, especially in the media industry, use an email format like FIRST NAME.LAST NAME@COMPANY.COM. Once you figure out one person’s email you can follow the format to contact other people. If you can’t track down an email, this may be your best bet! **

Perfecting the initial contact.

Now that you’ve got everyone’s contact information it’s time to craft the perfect first email. Similar to a social media DM, this message needs to be short and professional. It’s important not to ask, ask, ask in these emails. You can’t email a professional in any industry and ask them for a job or internship before building some sort of relationship. The first email you send should include a short introduction about who you are, where you go to school, what your goals are, etc…

It is also important to explain why you’re reaching out to this particular person. Be sure to say something like, “I really admire your career path” or “I read your article on [INSERT TOPIC] and found it really informative and engaging” before going into what you want from them. Not only is this just nice to do, it also makes people more willing to respond and, hopefully, help you out in the future. Sometimes I would go ahead and include some questions but just remember to keep the text to a minimum because the people you’re reaching out to are likely very busy.

** TIP #1: If you have something in common with the person you’re contacting be sure to mention it in your first email. When I was reaching out to people in the media industry I would look for people who were also from outside of New York City because I felt like they could relate to my situation. Finding similarities with professionals you admire is a great way to create a connection. **

** TIP #2: When it comes to the media industry in particular don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back before following up. These people receive thousands of emails every single day and it is incredibly easy for things to get overlooked. Follow up a couple of times before giving up and moving on! **

If possible, meet up in person.

When I was interning in New York City I was in a unique position because the majority of the people I’d been communicating with were based there. As a result, I was able to plan coffee dates or meet ups with a lot of my biggest inspirations in the industry. When I was still in Kentucky I did a lot of corresponding via email and the occasional phone call but nothing compares to getting face-to-face time with professional whose work you admire. If you’re reaching out to people in your own city, consider setting up a coffee meeting instead of asking the questions over email. Keep these meetings short because, again, these people are likely very busy.

If coffee isn’t your speed, you can always suggest meeting at someone’s office. I did this a couple of times when I was in New York because everyone I wanted to talk to was insanely busy. I worked in the Meredith Corporation (formerly Time Inc.) headquarters but I had the opportunity to go to the Hearst and Facebook offices because I was meeting with people outside of my company. Just remember that you’re asking a lot of this person so let them set the meeting on their own terms. If they ask you to meet somewhere, do it and don’t complain – even if it’s on the opposite site of the city. Be grateful for any time people are willing to give you because they don’t owe you anything!

Ask lots & lots of questions.

If you’ve managed to get some time with a professional whose work you admire be sure not to waste any of it. Come prepared with more questions than they’ll have time to answer. Do some research about them and their company beforehand. If you come into the room without knowing anything about this person you will come across as unprofessional. They’re giving you some of their valuable time so be sure to show them you deserve it. Since I was meeting with people in the magazine industry I would often ask about their opinions on print vs. digital publications or comment on pieces they had written that really resonated with me. Meeting with people in the field you’re interested in is the best way to figure out whether or not that’s what you really want to do, so pay attention and take advantage of the opportunity to pick someone’s brain about their job.

Keep in touch.

If you’re interested in sustaining the connections you’ve formed through networking, following up and staying in touch is crucial. In my industry, I’ll email someone I’ve talked to before whenever I read an article of theirs that I enjoyed or see that they’ve been promoted/gotten a new position. I also have some relationships that are stronger or more informal and I keep up with those people via social media. I comment on their pictures and stay engaged in their lives. When I was pursuing an internship in NYC for two years I sent an email to one of my biggest idols in the industry every few months or so. She almost always responded with feedback about my resume, advice for applying to positions and general encouragement. When I finally made it to the city I had the opportunity to meet her face to face. So – it is possible to grow your network using email and social media. You just have to be professional and consistent.

** TIP: Keep track of the people are reach out to. I had/still have a spreadsheet where I keep contact information, where each person works, if they responded to my first email, etc… This way, you can be sure you’re following up regularly. I also update the sheet whenever people I know get new jobs because you never know when you may need a connection at whatever their new company is! **

 

Have you ever used social media as a way to interact with people in your industry?
How did it go?
Let me know in the comments below!

Thank you for reading!

xx

 

1 Comment

  1. September 26, 2018 / 1:39 pm

    Expanding a work network in beneficial for a professional person. Nice to have great tips.

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