How to Develop Contact Lists
Since the first people you'll draft for your network are probably going to be friends and family members, you don't have to do anything too formal. Generally, you can give them a call or send an e-mail, telling them a little about your career plans, if they don't already know what they are, and asking if they know anyone in your field. It is when you have to begin contacting the friends of friends and family that you must get more formal.
Communicating with a Contact by E-mail
The easiest way to develop a contact list is to send a networking letter by e-mail. You can clearly spell out what your needs are and give the person the opportunity to reply on his own schedule.
If you don't know the contact personally or he isn't someone with whom you are familiar, word your correspondence in a businesslike manner. In other words, don't use your addressee's first name (unless you're already on a first name basis with him) or an overly casual writing style. If you've been in touch with him recently, remind him of this — for example, “It was great seeing you at the Chicago Writers' Convention last month” or “It's been several months since we bumped into each other on that flight to London. How are you?”
Often you'll send a networking e-mail to an addressee to whom you have been referred by a mutual acquaintance. In this case, immediately state the name of the person who referred you, such as “Jean Rawlins suggested I contact you.” Ask your new contact for advice about your field, information, or the names of other contacts. Do not ask for a job at this point. Chances are, if your e-mail is politely persuasive, people will be interested in talking with you.
Here's a sample networking e-mail:
Dear Ms. Wilson:
Peter Price suggested I contact you. I am studying to be an accountant, and Mr. Price mentioned that you have worked in this field for the past few years. He thought you would be a good person for me to talk with. I would like to know a bit about the ins and outs of the accounting field. I will be graduating shortly and I'm not sure what area I want to specialize in. If possible, I would like to meet with you to get your advice. In addition, if you know of anyone else with whom I should speak, please let me know.
You can get in touch with me by replying to this e-mail or calling me at (303) 555-5555. Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.
Communicating with a Contact by Phone
Reaching out to a contact by telephone usually offers something e-mail doesn't — immediacy. You won't have to wait for a reply, and if you don't get one, you won't have to wonder if the recipient is ignoring you or if he didn't receive your message. You may also get the information you are looking for right away, whether that comes in the form of a date for a meeting with this person or the name of another person to add to your list. On the other hand, you may be calling at a bad time, possibly interrupting your contact in the middle of something important. The person on the other end of the line may also feel put on the spot. If you do choose to use the telephone, be polite, be brief, and make your intentions clear.
A good introduction is imperative to getting your networking relationship off to a good start. Aim for a balance of brevity and completeness. Don't simply call someone and say, “Hi, Mr. Pitt. This is George. Linda told me you do quite a business in the stock market. Do you mind telling me about it?” Write out a short statement, including not only what you want but also who you are. If you waste someone's time, his opinion of you will take a nose-dive. So practice your delivery before giving the pitch, and make sure to tailor each one to the situation at hand.
Many people are, at first, a little uncomfortable calling people they don't know and asking for contact names and interviews. You'll be nervous the first few times, but with practice you'll feel much more comfortable and confident making calls. The key is to think about what you're going to say in advance, pick up that phone, and just do it. No one else can network for you. Once you gain some confidence, you'll find that your calls will make a big difference in your job-search campaign.
Communicating with a Contact in Person
Strike up conversations with people you meet at social and business events. While it may be awkward to ask someone what she does for a living, mention what you do, and she may tell you. Lo and behold, the opportunity to add someone to your network may appear out of the blue. The person you're talking to may happen to work in your field, or may know someone who does. While you may find it difficult to ask for help from someone in person, this isn't an opportunity you should pass up. You can ask for help right on the spot, but if this is a social event, you should instead ask for a meeting at a later date. Ask if it would be okay to contact her later and make sure you get an e-mail address or phone number, asking which one she prefers you use.
Business cards, if you keep them simple, are relatively inexpensive to have printed up. They are a great way to get your name and contact information circulating. When you meet someone you want to have in your network, instead of scrambling around for a scrap of paper and a pen, hand them a professional-looking business card. Remember to ask for theirs, too.