I’ve just finished reading Reach Out: The Simple Strategy You Need to Expand Your Network and Increase Your Influence by Molly Beck, and I proverbially ran here to write about it. For those who know my work with Defector Academy, you’ll recognize that its emphasis on building your network aligns nicely with principle 4: Assemble Your Crew. And in fact, I count Molly as a loose tie of my own – I commented on her T-shirt at a conference earlier this year, only to find out she was the founder of a company (messy.fm) that I’d been admiring from afar!
Like Molly, I balk at the bastardized verb “networking” – not just for its connotations of awkward and forced conversation and dusty business card collections, but also for the idea that these connections should be anything but genuine. Rather, “building your network” should be developing relationships online and off that contribute to the (ideally) mutual benefit of each party involved.
Molly’s Reach Out method identifies four different types of “Reach Outs” one can execute in order to strengthen their network, and I want to spend my time here outlining how each type is especially important for those looking to Defect from their current line of work.
The Re-Reach Out: Stoking the Embers of a Lapsed Connection
When I talk to people about networking, a question that frequently comes up is, “how do I reach back out to people who I haven’t talked to in a while?” We all have connections that we’ve made, professionally or personally, that we’ve allowed to lapse. And the emotions around that situation can range from guilt, to shame, to embarrassment. But they don’t have to!
We’re a world full of busy, stretched-thin, and multitasking people. It is natural for connections or conversations to fall dormant. But there’s always an opportunity to freshen those relationships. Molly’s book calls for offering an initial gift of a compliment, followed by another gift that can include a link to a book or article they might like, a plus one invite for an event, or a bit of advice that might help them with something they’re working on. Freshening these relationships with a purpose can lessen the strangeness we often associate with an “out of the blue” message.
Why This Matters for Defectors: Because the field in which we work allows for and/or encourages such transience, our work connections are often short-lived—a fact that is all the more true when thinking about students as prospective connections; they’re supposed to leave after a time! This means people we once saw every single day, we may in short order be relegated to only seeing online at the whim of an algorithm. It’s normal and expected for the dynamic of these relationships to change. We can rekindle them with purpose, recognizing the special something these individuals can give to our careers…and our lives.
The Follow-Up Reach Out: Feed the Flames of a First Encounter
We’ve all done it. Gone to an event, mixer, or even made a chance connection at a coffee shop or store; grabbed a business card; and then promptly forgotten or neglected to do anything with it. What we gain in scrap paper weighing down our wallets or purses, we’ve lost in opportunity.
Molly’s advice? Follow up with these sorts of connections the morning after they’re made. Even a short “it was great meeting you!” message can keep the warmth of that introduction burning for a moment longer. And when, in a few months time, you make a clear connection between that person and how they might be able to be helpful…the outreach you make isn’t the first time you’ve spoken.
Why This Matters for Defectors: One of the biggest recommendations I make to folx hoping to pivot from one field to the next is to attend events and congregate in spaces where your future colleagues will be. A form of pushback I receive? “What will I say to these people?” In the room, you’ll find ways to express what you’re interested in and what brought you to the space. And by committing yourself to expeditious follow-up, you can take your time researching their organization and role, injecting a question or two that can keep the interaction going. It can be nerve-wracking going into a new space (that represents a new industry) without a plan. Now, you have one!
The Borrowed Connection Reach Out: Fanning the Flames from that “Friend of a Friend”
Of all the methods there are to build a network, this one might be my favorite. As someone who admittedly has to drum up a lot of momentum to meet new people, it helps when people I already know, trust, and appreciate can “vouch” for someone new. And this phenomenon is mimicked in professional circles. In cases where candidates are referred to a company by a current employee, that candidate is hired roughly two-thirds of the time, according to a US News report.
Molly cites Adam Grant’s research on strong, weak, and dormant social ties as documented proof of how these people who are further away from us being helpful to our professional prospects, but I’d like to introduce an additional element to that conversation, one that I haven’t seen brought up as often. The people who know us well, our strong ties, are – knowingly or otherwise – connected to a certain version of us. People who don’t know us as well, and haven’t known us as any one thing, have a bit more imagination when considering our strengths, interests, and future potential. When we’re looking to make a change, that makes their interest and support tremendously powerful.
Why This Matters for Defectors: Imagination is essential to letting weak ties elevate us in job search scenarios, but it’s not always a quality that hiring managers or other folx involved in the job search process have. Put another way, unknown entities tend to be overlooked even in the most purportedly creative or open-minded organizations. Having someone to speak on your behalf can make a difference in these scenarios…which means making the most of these second degree connections that those who know us seek to make.
The Cool Reach Out: Strangers as Fires You Haven’t Lit Yet
I know, I know. This isn’t always an easy one. But I’ll share an example of how this has worked out for me. As my interest in comedy as a research area grew, I became enamored with the work of Peter McGraw. His book The Humor Code framed a great deal of how I explained jokes to people, as well as why jokes didn’t work. When it came time to put together a conference proposal that featured panelists with diverse views on the topic, I got it into my head to ask Peter – who I’d tagged on Twitter and LinkedIn a few times – to speak on the panel with me. Believe it or not, he responded back with a great deal of interest! And although he regretfully was unable to participate due to a scheduling conflict, connecting with him over my interpretation of his work meant so much. And these seemingly blind encounters have more potential to work than ever before, thanks to a hyper-connected world.
Perhaps there’s someone exploring big questions in the area that you’re hoping to work. Or maybe there’s a hiring manager for a role that caught your eye, who you have no connections to. In either instance, you lose nothing for sending that person a quick message. If they don’t respond, you’re where you were before you began. And if they do respond? You’ve got a new budding relationship that you didn’t have before.
Why This Matters for Defectors: Again, when making a pivot, it’s possible that our existing network will be unable to help. If that’s the case, cold outreach will by nature be a larger part of your network building process. As you gear up to spark these conversations, be sure to do thorough research about these individuals, their backgrounds, possible thought leadership they’ve put out into the world…and use all that information to ask measured and unique questions. If it can be Googled, don’t ask it. While Molly recommends that cold Reach Outs make up no more than 20% of your overall Reach Outs, I add to that the idea that effective engagement with your Follow-Up and Borrowed Connections could bring you closer to these seemingly Cold Reach Outs than you might think. In this way, it’s clear that all four methods can work together beautifully to produce a well-rounded, impactful, and comforting network to guide you toward your next steps.
I knew I’d want to share this book with the Defector community after reading this quote from Molly early on in the book’s introduction:
There is deep power in digging into your network to push yourself toward your professional dreams, and most of that power is through acquaintances whom you know loosely, individuals whom you’ve met in passing, and friends of friends.
Most of us know how to network in our field of choice. But when it comes time to make a change, our strategy has to change along with it. Molly calls this engaging with “connections at the edge of our network.” And I’m in complete agreement with her when she says, “The edge is where most of this power resides.”
I look forward to incorporating more of the stellar knowledge from Molly’s book into my work with Defectors – and if that’s you, please look through the offerings and get in touch. I can’t wait to team up with you on the journey to your next chapter!