Effective networking email strategies

Carolyn Bregmanby Carolyn Bregman 82L
Director, Alumni Career Services, EAA
March 2010

Networking is challenging for most of us. While networking is all about connecting and building relationships, we often think that it is something “other,” and if we only had the right magic words we could make doors swing open that are otherwise closed to us. This article will focus on initial outreach by email to networking contacts who we don’t already know, since that is often how we initiate contact. 

People are busy. It seems obvious, but it’s important to remember that you are writing to a person—someone who may be juggling work, a family, volunteer service, etc. As our Executive Career Coach Jodie Charlop 82OX 85C, notes in her article “11 Reasons…” in this newsletter, with so many layoffs due to the economy, people are often handling multiple responsibilities at work and doing more with less. All of this means that it is even harder to get someone’s attention amongst all of the many emails and distractions in any given day. And if the person you are reaching out to doesn’t know you, your email will not have priority. As a consequence, you need to…

Use a meaningful subject line. Ideally, you are making a contact because someone—friend, relative, former faculty member, career adviser, other networking contact—gave you their name. Otherwise, you are likely making contact because of a common or shared affinity, such as Emory or an industry group. Mention the connecting person or entity in your subject line to increase the odds that it will be opened. Using a subject line like “Referred by Ray O’Neill” or “Emory alumna making contact” increases the odds of being read, versus a generic subject line like “Introduction and Request for Information.” Do not send your email as high priority unless you have been instructed to do so by your reference (in fact, as a general rule, you should do exactly what your reference suggests you do). Do copy your referring connection as appropriate, since they could then easily send a “reply all” follow-up email, increasing the odds of a successful contact for you.

One of our alumae who regularly receives networking emails from alumni and students because she works for a popular company, advised that she took more seriously networking emails from people who referenced two commonalities or connections in their email, such as a personal referral and a common group connection (business or industry group, Emory connection, common campus activity while a student such as sorority or sports team, etc.).

Keep it short. A concise, to-the-point email increases the odds that it will be read. You are not writing a persuasive cover letter that highlights why you would be a great fit with the reader’s organization. You are not attempting to describe your many experiences or what has motivated you to be interested in the reader’s industry or specialty. Rather, you want to share the relevant parts of your professional background or story that will help the reader understand why you are reaching out to him. Have clarity about your own career goals, as well as the goals and outcomes of your contact; it should be clear why, of all people, you are reaching out to your reader for advice and information. Ideally, your email is three or four short paragraphs:

Don’t.  Please don’t.  

Don’t provide a lengthy discourse about yourself; since the reader doesn’t yet know you, they have no reason to be invested in your story and, as noted above, they have many competing claims upon their time.

Keep your focus on your reader rather than on you. Ragi Soto 03L, associate director of career services at the School of Law, notes that the focus needs to be on the person to whom you are directing your email, rather than on your wants, needs, or convenience. “Keep the focus on the recipient and how you would like to meet with them for a few minutes at their convenience at a convenient location to them for their advice and any suggestions they may have regarding transitioning into their respective career field.”

Keep your creativity professional. Donna Stephenson, associate director of alumni career services at Goizueta Business School, suggests that you “find an article that would be of interest to your reader and forward the link (for instance, for a marketing person, an article about how companies are using social networking to target customers). You can note why you thought the article was interesting and request an opportunity to speak with the reader to get their opinion or reaction to the article,” as well as for industry or company information. “This creates a ‘win-win’ for both parties and provides an ice-breaker.”

If you say you will follow up by phone, do so. While not personally a fan of being told by someone who I don’t yet know that they will contact me in a particular window of time, some people swear by this approach. It is only effective if you follow through as promised.

Try, try again. No response to your first email? Try again! Try different subject lines to try and get your email opened. Ask the person who referred you to reach out on your behalf. Determine if you have more than one connection point with your target reader that could increase the visibility of your outreach. It’s true that not everyone will respond to your email. However, our own feelings of vulnerability in a job search may cause us to ascribe to our target reader thoughts they may not be having. In fact, they have missed your email, put it aside to answer when they have more time, etc. 

Gathering information and making contacts by effective networking provides the strongest foundation for your job search. As Don Cornwell, associate director for The Career Center, advises, when it comes to networking you must “be fearless. This requires that you be confident in knowing yourself and willing to share who you are, while taking a risk to genuinely get to know someone else.” The rewards are countless—industry knowledge, company insights, personal satisfaction derived from making better career choices, and professional and personal relationships that can last a lifetime.

Carolyn Bregman 82L, is the Emory Alumni Association's director of Alumni Career Services. A former lawyer, her past roles at Emory include assistant dean for career services and for development and alumni relations at the School of Law. She has more than 15 years of experience in alumni advising.