How to authentically “keep in touch” with your network
I’m not a huge fan of career assessments, or the tendency that people have to sink time into doing so many of them. It is similar to our tendency to expend energy into endlessly ‘tweaking’ and ‘perfecting’ a resume. You can arrive fairly quickly to the place of diminishing returns. However, I am a fan of the Clifton Strengths Finder and its ability to highlight key themes or characteristics.
My strongest theme is Individualization. This means that I am “intrigued with the unique qualities of each person and intrigued by each person’s story, style, motivation, how they think and how they build relationships.” There are other primary themes, but Individualization is very much at my forefront.
Wait. So how does any of this help you?
Because I think you should focus on it, frankly. As a career coach, I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard people tell me that the ability to individualize is a key differentiator in most people’s careers and will help you build the authentic relationships you need all along your professional journey.
Connecting with people in an authentic way has become harder, though. While technological advancement enables the spanning of great distances and makes it easier to find our people, it has also changed how we meaningfully connect.
We live further away from family and friends, making it harder to see important people in our lives. Our attention spans have diminished and our tendency to connect using certain technology means that we often aren’t getting tone or full context in our interactions. Meanwhile on the hiring front, there is greater dependence on applicant tracking systems which can make you feel like you are fitting yourself into the frame a would-be employer wants to see without fairly getting across who you really are.
And yet. Having people prepared to inform you about opportunities, introduce you to others and vouch for you has never been more important. Your ability to build the relationships and social capital you need to realize your goals will be based in part on your ability to come across as, and better still, be, the authentic and engaged person that others view as someone they want as a colleague or partner.
The foundation for this is how we build our networks. And that starts with one big question.
How do you make others feel seen and heard?
Many people struggle with this. For me, the challenges of doing it are embodied by the flabbiest of default phrases, “keep in touch.” It imparts to the listener, whether or not you want it to, that “I’m not going to make much of an effort, here.” Or: “You’re the one who’ll be doing the running.”
You can do better than that! And we want you to deepen your relationships. Not to come across like you’re not interested. So: Let me help you.
How To Reach Out
The note you send, whether it’s to a total stranger via LinkedIn, or even to someone you have known for years, needs to reflect your genuine interest in them. If it is a new person, your note needs to get across why you want to have a chat, based on some thoughtful connection.
There is simply no reason for the generic LinkedIn connection with no note, or one that blandly says something like “given our mutual interests I thought we might do business one day and want you in my network.” That’s the laziness that makes me feel I was one of dozens of people you sent notes to. Or if I have known you for years but we speak infrequently, writing me nothing but a line with a request for a warm introduction to X person at Y company makes me feel more like a tool than a person.
How To Conduct Conversations
Once you’ve scheduled a conversation with somebody, how do you show up so that the person continues to feel seen and heard?
- Always come into the conversation with a set of questions. Some may be fairly generic, about their work, role, employer, and so on. But others should be about their life experience. You want to demonstrate that you have researched and value their unique perspective.
- Always ask questions about their needs. Allow them to see your view that a relationship with you is mutually beneficial.
- Think about how you “close.” Don’t say “keep in touch.” Thank them for their time and insight. Share that you will be follow-up soon. Then actually do follow up.
How To Follow-up
This is where we cement your place as a thoughtful and intentional person.
- This starts with a note within a few days of the conversation to memorialize what was discussed. Including anything they said would be helpful to them.
- In the event that something connects with one of their needs, follow-up at any time. Fight the urge to think you can’t help others. We are too quick to disparage how we might be of assistance.
- Offer an update about life, ask them how they are and make no requests for you. People will find that refreshing. Like, genuinely mind-blowing, in many cases.
Ask yourself to consider whether you are a “keep in touch”-type of person and consider how that impacts your relationships with others. I hope this approach will enable you to build stronger relationships and be more of a resource to the world. You will be better off for it.
—Russ Finkelstein 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 his new book, "Let's Sort Out Your Career Mess, Together..." is forthcoming in 2021.