The easiest and best way to meet someone is for a mutual connection to give you a warm introduction and highlight what you have in common. If you do need to reach out to someone you’ve never met, Ms. Kalinowski recommends engaging that person through some content, like a blog post that he or she has written, to start a conversation, rather than showing up with a request.
When you do ask for something, for example information about a person’s job or industry, do some research on the topic and ask for the person’s opinion on what you’ve learned, rather than asking him or her to explain it all to you. “Don’t make them do the heavy lift,” Ms. Kalinowski said. And, of course, don’t ask for information that is readily available on the internet.
First (Online) Impressions Count
The way you present yourself can make the difference between receiving a response and being ignored, Ms. Clark said, so when she reaches out to someone new, she sends along what she calls a “brand narrative,” a one-slide summary of who she is, her background, her personal attributes and her proudest achievements. It’s a quicker and more holistic view than a résumé that focuses mainly on career, she said.
The goal is to share what you are proud of and “inspire the person to want to meet with you and get to know you better,” she said. Including more aspects of yourself makes it more likely you will find something in common.
Think About What You Can Offer
The power dynamic can feel awkward if a higher-up is providing advice or a connection — what can you offer of value? Beyond a simple thank-you, circle back and say how the advice helped you, Ms. Waninger said. If the person recommended a book, say what you learned from it. If you had a terrific conversation with someone that person put you in touch with, let him or her know. Move beyond the transactional interaction to an ongoing dialogue, she added.
Always include people whom you can be of help to in your network, Ms. Waninger said. You might connect two friends with a shared interest, or scan your company’s job openings for positions you can recommend to people you know might be a good fit.
Beyond One-on-One Interactions
Mentors don’t have to be people you meet with individually. “You can choose your mentor across time and space through a book or a podcast,” and adapt that person’s advice and outlook to your own circumstances, Ms. Waninger said.