We’ve all heard about how invaluable our network is and how nobody finds a job without LinkedIn these days. And, in some ways, staying in touch is far easier for our generation than those who came before us. But how many of your Facebook friends or LinkedIn connections would you feel comfortable calling up on a whim? Or asking if you could come take their portrait like this artist did? Luckily, we all have some sort of network we’ve built that we do feel comfortable reaching out to, and that’s a good place to start. There are certainly innumerable resources out there about how to best build and foster your network, but I’m hoping to share a few quick things I’ve learned in the time since completing my FAO Fellowship.
CONNECT WITH INTERESTS
If you feel comfortable enough to reach out to someone via email or the phone, chances are you also know something about their interests. One of the best go-to ways to stay connected with someone or to start an email that contains an ask is to include something you’ve heard or seen lately that you think they would be interested in. Just listened to a podcast about an organization like theirs? Read a news article that was about their hometown? Share a link and let them know you were thinking of them. (Quick tip: make sure this isn’t about their sector being a total scam or their hometown mayor laundering money… positive is always better).
DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK…
It’s cliché for a reason: the worst someone can do is say no (or, more likely, not respond to your email). The important thing is to be clear about what you’re asking for and try to ask for something that won’t be a huge inconvenience. If you’re reaching out to try to further your career or ask for help, you should be the one doing most of the work. If you’re hoping to meet up, pick a location convenient for them and offer specific times. If you’re interested in their field of work and you’ve already heard all about their job, search LinkedIn for someone they know in a position you would be interested in and ask for an email introduction. Better yet, offer to send a paragraph for them to include in an email introduction. I won’t go into it here, but Vu Le has some great advice for you once you’ve secured that coffee date. Also, be sure to say thank you to both the person you met with and the person who arranged it. They’ll be happy to know you followed through and connected with someone in their network.
EVEN WHEN IT’S BEEN AWHILE
One of my personal struggles is staying in regular contact with those in my network. I try to follow great tips like using holidays as an excuse to reach out and being intentional about refreshing my network, but I never do it as often as I should. A couple experiences over the past few years, however, have taught me that shouldn’t stop you from reaching out when an opportunity presents itself. If there’s a job posting at an organization where someone in your network used to work or you’re thinking about transitioning to a new field where an old fellowship connection has experience, it’s worth reaching out even if you haven’t stayed in touch. And if you’re unsure, don’t be afraid to be up front about how long it’s been and give a reminder of how you know one another. Chances are, they will be able and willing to help if you approach with a manageable ask. Even if they aren’t, this can serve as a great touch point. Take the opportunity to reconnect and catch up.
Overall, I’ve learned in recent years not to think of my network as something separate from the rest of my life. The people I completed my FAO Fellowship with, the Executive Directors I met on retreats, the fellowship Trustees I met at dinner, they are all people I have something in common with. They serve as resources for me, just as I can be a resource to them. And if I ever get too hesitant about reaching out, I think about whether what I’m asking for is something I’d be willing to do if the situation were reversed. Staying connected with your network, both personally and professionally, will be beneficial to your career and to your life. The best time to start is now.
Dawn Lavallee is a 2018 MBA Candidate in the Public and Nonprofit MBA program at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. During her fellowship, Dawn worked at Playworks New England developing Social-Emotional Learning Curriculum and helping young Playworks Junior Coaches to make a successful transition to middle school. When she’s not doing classwork, she can be found running, hiking, crafting, or volunteering with local nonprofits.