First network. Then follow up.
The follow-up email is an important tool in your networking arsenal for staying in contact and enabling future opportunities.
“It was so great meeting you,” I said as I finished jotting down notes. “Thank you for taking the time to speak with me about your career. I definitely want to stay in touch.”
I hung up the phone, flexed my shoulders, and went to make a grilled cheese sandwich. I had just spoken with a leader in the quantum optics industry who spelled out the skills I would need to thrive. She even promised to recommend me for a job. Networking mission accomplished!
Not so fast, I realized. There was more to this relationship that I had to cultivate. A successful conversation is only the first rung on the networking ladder. The next step is maintaining contact.
After I have spoken with someone, whether over coffee or via phone or Skype, I make a note in my calendar to email that person at a later date. The timing of the follow-up email is based on the nature of the conversation. If someone specifically asks that I respond in a month, I schedule myself a reminder to email on the appropriate date. If a contact mentions she is going to an event that I, too, will be attending, I make a note to follow up approximately three weeks before the event to make an appointment to meet in person.
Generally, I try to check in with my contacts two to four times a year. That can become challenging as you acquire more of them. But even one check-in a year can suffice to keep a partnership going and growing.
When you construct a follow-up email, keep in mind the underlying objectives of networking. You want to foster the alliance, invest in engagement, deliver value, and offer assistance. Here is how to achieve those objective in follow-up emails. Feel free to pick one of the tactics or mix and match.
Although I have referenced follow-ups as emails, that doesn’t have to be the only method of communication. Other people may prefer a different type of correspondence, such as texting or Facebook messaging. But I always start with emails and let the other person point me to a different mode if desired. Email is still the professional way to go.
Now go follow up!
Alaina G. Levine is a science and engineering writer, career consultant, and professional speaker and comedian. She is the author of Networking for Nerds, which was named by Physics Today as one of the top five books of 2015. She can be reached through her website, www.alainalevine.com, or on Twitter at @AlainaGLevine. Parts of this article are featured in Networking for Nerds.