How Do You Locate and Initiate Online Professional Relationships?
Welcome back. Last week I shared with you a piece about Online Professional Relationships and Why They Matter. If you agree that they do, I want to offer a strategy for making and locating more potential relationships.
The primary reasons why this is worth your time:
- You allow people, even those more distant connections from your past, to connect you to opportunities, serve as a recommender and be a champion of you in small and big ways.
- You build a web of people who can help you grow your understanding of roles, fields, or industries.
- You decrease your isolation by helping others and getting the help you need yourself.
Once you decide that you want to expand the number of people who play this role in your life it is time to get strategic. How do you decide who might be a good fit? Here are a few guiding thoughts that might help you:
Figure out who you want to add to your network. It does not necessarily take lots of time to maintain (or solidify) these relationships, but it will require some. So, you need to consider your current network and determine its voids or weaknesses. When I have worked with others, they typically seek out the following:
- people who have industry, role, or issue knowledge
- people who are working at a particular employer, working in a specific city or country
- people who have a shared life experience who might help them to better understand what it means to be a person with X background or identity doing that work.
Understand that not everyone wants to connect with you. Some people have a harder time accepting that some people simply will not have an interest in connecting with you in that way. It might be that they do not see a specific value in connecting with you, that they get overwhelmed by requests, that they do not invest much time in these kinds of relationships or that they have a hard time managing their existing relationships.
There are very different strategies that people take to connect with others virtually. I know some people who espouse a philosophy that if they have not met you in person and worked with you in some way that they will not be open to connecting with you. This is not the more common perspective, but it is not that rare either. A larger percentage say yes to almost everyone, or direct people to follow them. I am mostly open to connecting with people unless I can tell, most often by what they share, that they are really trying to sell me on a service.
Be authentic. Do not try to take on a persona to win someone over. It is a mask that you will not be able to keep up for very long. When you reach out do so with your why about connecting and hopefully you offer more than I want a job, or I need you to get my access to all the people you know. If you are intrigued by someone and their career arc, that is perfectly OK to say.
Do not expect too much. The idea here is that this is a light lift to start. So do not reach out expecting to have a weekly conversation or ask for them to make introductions upon first conversation. Rather, take it slow and let trust and the relationship build over time. Even just liking or commenting on their content or sharing a report or event that might interest them is sufficient.
Know what you are prepared to offer. While you are putting in an effort to build yourself a web of support, what are you prepared to make available to others? What if they want access to your professional connections, perhaps some of the people you know that you prize most and can be prickly, or maybe they want some of your time? I always mention to others that relationships are not one-sided. Do not strip mine, but plant seeds, and tend to the needs of others, or at least recognize that they may well have them, too.
So how might you go about finding folks that you can add to this growing network? A few of the ways that you can initiate your search include:
Key Professional Directories. We live in a golden age of directories of all sorts. If you have done the work of knowing what you are looking for that I described above, you have the search terms that can help you find people. I am a huge fan of LinkedIn and its ability to show us second degree connections. Increasingly, alumni associations are using platforms that enable easy criteria search. The same holds true for the membership of professional associations you have joined or might now choose to join.
Events. Look through events that match your area(s) of interest and locate speakers or conference attendees that you might want to know.
Crowdsourcing. If you tell those you know that you specifically what you are seeking, for example someone who works in Arts Operations in Atlanta or Dallas or Social Media Strategy for a Tech Company in the Midwest they might well have some suggestions.
I hope this has helped you to consider who and how you add people. Next time, the strategies to sustain online relationships.
—Russ Finkelstein [linkedin.com] is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor. A career coach, social entrepreneur, and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship, and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website Idealist.org and was chosen as a Generation Z Influencer by LinkedIn.