Why (& How) To Get Professionals You Don't Know to Engage

I’ve received 15 requests over the last three days on LinkedIn to connect and chat. They are all folks who are trying to have me hire them, or refer them out, for business. Most have included no note or something so generic that when I quickly scan their professional history, I see that they have the hope that I will hire them. Of course their inability to write text that is personal and makes me feel seen tells me that we probably aren’t a good fit. Alas, I like to feel special, so I shall remain elusive.


Many people reach out because they’ve read a piece of mine or a friend/colleague offered up my name. In part, I won’t hold even the truly exhausting people against them. I’m not going to be useful to everyone and my goal is to help them find who their right person would be.

Nonetheless, I get this question all the time about why I meet with most people who reach out to me. It often comes from people who are already exhausted by their schedule and/or have taken to the practice of saying No to X means saying Yes to Y. I think that school of thought has some merit, but saying yes and giving myself permission to do so is a core value of mine.

Why do I get to yes so quickly and regularly? Well, I’m glad you asked

What moves me, and some other people:

Seeing the Unseen If you’ve spent any part of your life feeling diminished based on how peers and colleagues treated you, schools placed you in class, or selection committees determined your inclusion in competitive opportunities you may well have felt unseen, unimportant, and perhaps much worse than that. I felt that way for much of the first 20+ years of my life. I’ve a goal of helping more cycle through not feeling worthy and hopefully do so one meeting at a time.

The knowledge that people are not their LI profiles or online bios While that information is a really rough sketch of people many don’t make a thorough effort to share who they are online so you don’t have a real sense of them. Nor do you get a sense of their personality at all. You miss out on what can make people amazing if you don’t take at least 15-30 minutes to begin to engage them in a conversation and hear their story, goals, and challenges.

The pluses of a they take meetings reputation People talk about your openness towards meeting others and it begets lots more meetings–if people found their conversation useful. Using my best Forrest Gump voice, “meetings are like a box of chocolates” and I get enough toffee or caramel filled relative to rum raisin to make them worth doing. Some of the best people and future work partners that I’ve met in my career came from being open to having hard to predict conversations in the mix. 

Serving as a connector During a dinner this weekend, I met with someone who was looking for a set of partnerships to try out some new ideas. He had financial resources to fund these experiments. I could quickly rattle off some prospective partners for that work who could fit their partner profile, but also who could take the resources that would be made available to do some of their own experiments, and, I had people in mind who could help them with that work. Connecting allowed me to offer up a quicker processing of partner fits that would realize good work. The world has never needed people to serve as intentional connectors more than now, and, given the loosening of ties it can feel hard.

Now, just because these are things that I and some others practice doesn’t mean that they are typical. The following inform my yeses, but are also big motivators for others.

What moves most people:

I started this piece mentioning people who make no effort and try to sell me services. The best thing that you can do is to write to someone and help them see a part of themselves in you. That part will differ of course, it may be that we grew up in the same place or region, attended the same college or university or have a shared identity. You are attempting to curry favor by finding any bridge to who they used to be as a younger professional trying to make their mark on the world. Some people will write to me about how Idealist.org has helped them to land multiple roles, that they attended my school, or have had a harder time establishing a professional identity because they were closeted.


The more tried and true method is ego stroking directed at the person you want to meet. Some people, in particular those with ‘big’ jobs may be already accustomed to this and therefore harder to move, but most people don’t receive regular praise. (As an aside, I will recognize that not all kind words are manipulative, but sometimes …) Typical praise for me usually highlights past accomplishments, my current work, and a desire to have a similar career, or a piece I’ve written that touched the reader in some way.

If you manage to do both you will love the number of yeses you receive. I hope this helps you fill up your calendar with the MOST exciting people.

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