Several students have asked me recently about how to start the online networking conversation. You have a great LinkedIn profile or you have registered for Bath Connection, raring to connect with alumni to ask questions about their careers, but you just don’t know how to start. Here are 5 tips. Want to get further tips? See our online networking blog.
You have found a few alumni you would like to connect with. Before you connect, have a think about why you want to connect and what you would like to find out. Reflect on the aim of your online conversation. Then research the person further, what can you find out about them through LinkedIn, Bath Connection or even though the web? The more you know about the person you want to connect with, the better the networking will be.
- The first message
Your first message should be brief, concise and motivational. What are your reasons for contacting this person specifically? Mention if you have something in common, e.g. alumni from the same University or perhaps you saw the person speak at a recent virtual event. On LinkedIn you only have a certain number of characters if you choose to add a note so it is even more important that you show your motivation and what you have in common. Lastly, be genuine, this is not the time to impress but instead show that you are really interested in the person you are contacting and why that is.
- The next step – further questions or a virtual coffee chat?
If the alumni get back to you with a positive responses, first obstacle overcome but what now? First of all, don’t wait too long before you connect again. You should have a list of questions you would like to ask at this point. Be polite, professional and write a clear and positive email, also sharing a little bit about yourself and your career aspirations. However, this could also be a good opportunity to ask whether the person prefers a brief virtual coffee chat instead. It is usually quicker than writing and you can then meet them face to face.
- Virtual Coffee Chat
You’ve taken the plunge and have asked for a virtual coffee chat and they said yes! What next? Well the preparation is the same as for emailing your queries, have a list of questions ready. But with a virtual meeting or a phone chat, prepare to break the ice first. Asking how they are, maybe asking how it is to work from home or whether they have enjoyed the sunny weather can be good conversation openers, or sharing common memories of Bath campus. Treat the meeting as a much more informal meeting than an interview for example, but still make sure you and your background look nice and make sure there are no interruptions. Depending on the person you are talking to and the length of time you have, this could result in an informal conversation where you also share your own background and career aspirations, so be prepared to answer questions about yourself as well as asking them. It is a good idea to reflect on your short to long – term career plans and ideas, however you don’t need to be set in stone here, this may be one of the reasons why you asked for a chat in the first place! Here is a nice article on virtual coffee chats. Finally, be genuine and authentic, you want to try and make a real connection. Read this blog on authenticity of networking.
- Ask for other contacts and follow up
You may just have that one virtual chat or that one email, but this has peaked your interest. Then politely ask whether you can contact them again at a later date for further advice or a chat. If the person shares names of other contacts or organisations that may be of help to you, then make sure to follow up and ask for those contact details and whether it is ok to state that this person shared the contact details with you. If you are lucky, you may get a name for that speculative application or further careers research, or another virtual coffee chat that may lead to a long-term mentoring relationship or a possible job opportunity.
Final top tip? Never ask for a job straight away, that usually does not go down well and you may not get a response. You need to develop a relationship, get to know the other person before you approach about possible work opportunities.
Good luck networking!