How to Network Without Asking for a Favor

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One of the best ways to foster a networking relationship is through a school or corporate alumni connection. Such connections are considered warm leads because a certain degree of relationship already exists. Warm leads are more viable than cold calls where no relationship is present. Members of the same affinity group are often more likely to help one another. But how do you approach people authentically, without making them feel uncomfortable with your request to meet with them and without making them feel they cannot meet your expectations for assistance? Here are some tips for building a quality relationship with alumni without asking for a favor or creating expectations that make the other person feel uncomfortable or unwilling to help.

  1. When you contact the person, remind them of the affinity relationship. Alumni connections from schools and corporations are powerful affinity groups. Even if you didn't know the person during your time in school or tenure with a company, there is still generally a stronger bond between people who traveled in the same social and professional circles.

  2. Let the person know why you are interested in connecting with them. Perhaps they are in the same profession or industry as you or they work for an organization you have identified as one of your target companies. But state very clearly that you have no expectation that they can help you secure an interview. Let them know, however, that you have identified the company, profession, or industry as one you are interested in learning more about.

  3. Ask if they would be willing to speak with you so you can learn more about the company, profession, or industry's culture. Stress that you don't expect them to give up a lot of their time and that you would make the meeting very brief.

  4. If the person agrees, plan for a 20 to 30 minute conversation that includes a brief introduction of who you are and what your professional accomplishments and future goals are. Follow with an open Q&A about them. Ask questions about what they do professionally, what their role in the company is, and their thoughts about trends they see in the company, profession, and industry.

  5. Ask for recommendations of other people they suggest you talk to or other ideas on how you might get closer to your professional goal. If you know of a particular opening at their company that you are interested in pursuing, ask what would be the best way to get closer to the decision maker (without asking them to refer you).

  6. Thank them for their time, ask them if you can help them in any way, and offer to reciprocate information on a topic of interest to them.

  7. Create a strategy for staying in touch periodically, either through a social or business networking tool or general emails or meetings if appropriate.

As the person gets to know you better, they may be willing to share information on contacts and even introduce you to some key decision makers. But keep in mind that networking is a process and it takes time to grow trusted relationships. Develop authentic relationships that position you as a giver rather than a taker and create consistent "touch points" with your network to build the relationship and keep it strong. The more trusted relationships you build and the more frequently you find legitimate ways to connect, the more likely you are to find people who can help you reach your career goals.

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