How do you reach out to someone just out of the blue?
This is a question I get often.
I know many seasoned professionals who feel awkward about networking. Some were recruited into their jobs and never had to develop their networking muscles. Others have been with one company for years and built their relationships internally. If you feel uncomfortable reaching out beyond your network, you have nothing to be ashamed of.
I used to have the same discomfort. It’s no different from walking up to an attractive person at a bar and striking up a conversation.
Over the years, I learned some tricks that helped me confidently approach people outside my network. Once you know this approach, you’ll see how easy it is to expand your network.
Let’s dive in!
Your introductory message is THE most important communication you’ll ever send.
That’s right. Your first correspondence will either open or shut a door forever.
Imagine going to an event where strangers walk over and say, "Hey, here’s my card. Now, give me access to your network”.
Sounds crazy, right? But it’s baffling just how many people burn the bridge right off the bat.
Here are some common mistakes:
The hungry solicitation Many job seekers and sales reps were taught this blunt way to get to the point. The target is someone likely to be a decision-maker, and the purpose is to launch into a pitch or find a shortcut to a job interview.
The pressure sale I’ve seen this one used often by pompous young founders who want to portray themselves as scarce and in high demand. Their M.O. is to say something like, “I’ll be available to meet this Thursday at 11 am to discuss my unique blah, blah, blah.” In truth, these messages are mass-generated.
The generic invitation I’m talking about the infamous "I would like to join your LinkedIn network" That’s it. No further explanation.
If you’ve ever been on the receiving end, these questions come to mind before hitting delete:
What made this person seek me out?
Is this person looking to sell me something or use me to reach my contacts?
What value will this person add to my network if we haven’t exchanged a word?
These are sure ways to blow it. The good news for you is that there’s a large number of people out there committing one of these sins.
All you need to stand out from the crowd is basic courtesy — and a bit of common sense.
The anatomy of a compelling introductory message.
Chances are that you are a LinkedIn user. For demonstration, I’m going to focus on this network — but the same principles apply to all social media.
There are two ways to reach out to LinkedIn members who are not in your network:
Invitation to Connect — Available to all users. Maximum 300 characters.
In-Mail (Premium accounts only) — limit 15 direct messages per month to LinkedIn members outside your network.
Whether you use the short or the long form, the following are the building blocks for a compelling introductory message. Your outbound message must answer at least three of the following questions:
What’s your objective Are you looking to expand your network, seek information, or seek guidance?
What prompted you to reach out Do you share common acquaintances, saw a job posting, are you intrigued by something this person is doing or did you go to the same school?
Who are you Your last title, the kind of work you do, or an achievement you are proud of.
What’s your ulterior motive Make it explicit that you’re not trying to pull a fast one — such as sneaking in a resume or making a sales pitch.
What’s your ask My go-to is to ask if they are open to having a brief conversation sometime in the next two weeks. Here’s how to put it all together. Feel free to use and repurpose these templates.
Examples of a < 300-character “invitation to connect.”
"Hi _____. We haven't had the pleasure of meeting yet. I noticed that [ insert reason that prompted you to connect ]. I'm interested in connecting because [ insert a mutually beneficial reason ].”
“Hi ______. I read your post(s) about [insert topic(s)] and felt compelled to reach out. I’m currently trying to get more versed in [insert topic/industry/perspective/skill set] and could learn a ton from you. Would you be open to having a brief conversation?”
“Hi _____. I noticed that we have several connections in common, so I wanted to introduce myself. I’ve been contemplating pivoting from [current industry] to [their industry] and would like to learn about your world. If you’re willing and available, I’d love to ask you about your trajectory and experience.”
Example of an introductory InMail (or email)
I'm reaching out to network [or, I was referred by ____]. I noticed that you/we [ find something in common such as shared acquaintances, backgrounds, interests…]
I have a background in ________________. I recently left [ company ], where I was the[title] and helped [ achievement or nugget about the scope of your responsibilities ].
I’ve been considering pivoting into ________ [or I’m currently exploring my next career move], and I’m reaching out to people like you, who are doing exciting things with the intent of getting inspiration and fresh perspectives to inform my search.
I promise this is not a sneaky tactic to solicit a job or sell you anything. I’m genuinely interested in learning what a day in your life looks like, what it is like to work in your field, and any advice you could share to break into this role/industry.
Are you willing and available to have a phone or zoom call sometime in the next two weeks?
Thanks in advance, and kind regards!
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A thoughtful message can go a long way. Growing your network is easy when you approach someone with clear and genuine reasons.