How to Network: Building Powerful Connections from Scratch

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

How many times have we all heard that?

When you think of some of the biggest success stories of your time, you realize that it’s actually true.

Take Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

These two initially met through a mutual friend, Bill Fernandez.

He knew the two of them separately and figured they’d hit it off based on their love of technology. He introduced them and the rest is history, they hit it off and started hanging out together (eventually without Bill) and co-founded Apple.

Look at the former founders and early employees from PayPal.

They’ve done amazing things in the tech space and are still so connected they’re dubbed the “PayPal mafia.” Many of the former employees have co-founded startups together (i.e. Yelp and YouTube) and invested in each other’s companies.

Knowing how to network the right way is the single biggest differentiator between those who have careers they love and those who just “get by” everyday.

Powerful connections can do things for you, like:

  • Refer you to top companies (so you can “skip the line” to land top tier job offers)
  • Provide mentorship and life advice (saving you weeks, months, or even years of wasted effort from making the wrong life decision)
  • Introduce you to other smart people like investors, employers and unique opportunities
  • Invest in you or collaborate with you (so you can take your career

Today I’m going to share three scientific ways that you can use to build a powerful network that will give you a competitive advantage over everybody else for the top jobs, unique business opportunities, mentorship, advice and so much more.

I’ll include action items and word-for-word scripts to make it super easy for you to start building relationships with hard-to-reach people in your industry.

Get over the fear of asking for help

Whenever I have friends who are looking for a career change, the first thing I advise them to do is reach out to people and ask for help. But you know what’s funny? They don’t want to ask for help!

Why are we so afraid to ask for help? In most cases, it’s because we don’t want to feel like we’re imposing on someone or putting them in an uncomfortable situation.

But studies show that we actually underestimate how willing people are to help.

Researchers Francis J. Flynn and Vanessa K.B. Lake put this to the test by running a number of experiments where subjects were instructed to ask for favors. They asked strangers for things like borrowing a cell phone and for directions to the campus gym.

According to them, “the researchers found that participants consistently overestimated by 50 percent the number of people they’d have to ask to get a certain number to agree with each request.”

What was even more interesting is that the more direct they were about asking others for help, the more likely they were to receive help. “People in the position of offering assistance said they were much more likely to help if asked point blank.”

There’s also research which suggests that humans may have an innate urge to help. Experiments with 18 month-olds showed that they had a willingness to help adults who had their hands full by picking something up or trying to open the door.

People are much more willing to help you than you might think.

Many of us take way longer than necessary when it comes to accomplishing our biggest goals because we’re afraid to ask for help.

Your Action Items

  1. Brainstorm as many influential people that you already know. These may be family, friends, friends of friends or people who are connected to other smart people.
  2. Get specific about what you need help with. For example, you’ll get a better response if you ask someone if they know any “investors focused on early-stage tech investments” rather than simply asking someone if they know “investors”
  3. Come up with a template that you can use (or use the one below) and send it to at least three people by the end of the week.

Word-for-Word Template

Hi there,

How are things going? I was thinking about you the other day when I [insert: read an article, your name came up, etc],

How’s [insert: what you’re working on] going? I hope all is well.

On my end, I’m looking for help with [insert: whatever you need help with] and thought that you’d be a great person to ask about that. Could you possibly [insert: favor]? If not, no worries at all, just wanted to put it out there.

Have a good one and if there’s anything I can possibly help with please let me know.

Get in touch with Weak Ties

Here’s the twist.

The people that you’re actually comfortable reaching out to for help, like close friends and family, are not the right people that you should be networking with.

See, most career-related opportunities occur on the outer perimeter of your social network. Sociologists call these people your “weak ties,” the people you may only see once or twice a year. Or in this day and age, people you’ve only ever had contact with via social media or a few emails!

In 1978, sociologist Mark Granovetter asked Boston locals who recently switched jobs how they got them. Of those asked, 82% said they got their job through someone they saw occasionally (more than once a year but less that twice a week) or rarely (once a year or less).

This is largely because we spend most of our time interacting with the same group of people who are all exposed to the same information. They know the same people, companies, and opportunities that you do. But when you broaden your horizons to your weak ties, you’ll expose yourself to new stimuli.

So how do you go about reaching out to your weak ties? Use the script I gave you in Tip #1 and you can send it to people you’re’ not in regular contact with.

If it has been a while, you may want to preface that email with some social media love. You can comment on their blog or retweet something they Tweeted out to remind them of you.

When you get in touch with them, offer to catch up by taking them to coffee since face-to-face meetings are ideal.

Research suggests that face-to-face meetings result in more creative thinking and the ability for your mind to sync with the other person’s (something called neural synchronization) all of which lead to a deeper conversation.

If coffee isn’t possible, offer up a short phone or video call. You want to make it as easy as possible to get the other person to say yes to your invitation, so be concise, direct and give them options.

Here are some tips on inviting people out and getting them to say yes.

Your Action Items

  1. List out people in your industry who you don’t know all that well, but have been in touch with before. A great way to develop this list is to go through your social media networks. Check your LinkedIn connections, Facebook friends and people you follow on Twitter to remind you.
  2. Reach back out to these folks and ask them to catch up, you can use the script below

Word-for-Word Script

Hi [first name],

Hope you’re well. Apologies for not doing a better job of staying in touch, but I really enjoyed meeting you at [how you met and when]. I wanted to learn more about what you’re working on these days and catch up.

I’d love to take you to coffee in the next two weeks if your schedule allows it. Would next Wednesday or Friday morning work well for you? If not, happy to accommodate your schedule. Alternatively, if a 15 minute phone call would be better, we can hop on the phone.

Let me know what’s best for you, would really love to re-connect.

All the best,

[Your name]

[your phone number]

Get Warm Introductions

There are certain people that everyone would like to get in touch with.

There’s a reason why VIP’s are hard to reach…because they’re VIP’s! Their time is super valuable and people are constantly asking for their help. In most cases, VIP’s won’t even entertain a meeting with someone they don’t know.

But here’s the one exception: the warm introduction.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a warm introduction is being introduced to someone through a mutual contact. Basically the person putting you guys in touch is vouching for you, they’re giving their stamp of approval.

Warm introductions are powerful because they give you immediate credibility. By being “vouched for”, the person making the introduction is giving their stamp of approval of you, to the VIP.

The other great thing about warm introductions is that you have an established common ground, you both know the same person. Multiple studies have shown that we like people who we have things in common with.

In an interesting study by Dr. Byrne at the University of Texas from the book “Click”, he had students fill out surveys across 26 different attributes from trivial tastes like movies and music, to important things like beliefs and values.

The next day he gave the subjects surveys completed by a “counterpart” subject and then asked the subjects how they’d rate their counterparts based on their responses. Little did the subjects know that Dr. Byrne just filled them out himself.

A quarter of the surveys were in total agreement to the original survey, a quarter were in total disagreement, a quarter agreed on the trivial stuff but disagreed on the beliefs and values piece and then a quarter agreed on the beliefs and values, but disagreed on the trivial stuff.

As you’d suspect, when students got back surveys of their “counterparts” where there was agreement, they found those counterparts to be more moral, knowledgeable and intelligent.

Those counterparts were rated 13 out of 14 whereas the counterparts with total disagreement were rated a 4.14 out of 14 on the attractiveness scale.

The takeaway here is that you should play up the mutual connection. If you end up meeting or speaking with them, start the conversation by asking about how they met your mutual contact or volunteering a funny story about how you met them.

Also, research the VIP before meeting them. If you have other things in common (i.e. went to the same college, grew up in the same town, etc) make sure to use that to your advantage!

Your Action Items

  1. Create a list of VIP’s that you want to connect with in your industry
  2. Find them on LinkedIn
  3. Check out who your mutual contacts are, there may be times where you need to go through two or more people to reach the VIP in which case you should try to establish a connection with the person closer to the VIP. Mind you, this may take some time but is worth while
  4. If you’re one connection away from a VIP use the script below to gauge how close they are to the VIP
  5. If they are comfortable making the introduction, send them a forwardable email with something of value to the VIP. Pro Tip: If you want to make a good impression, show value up front. It could be a blog post or review that you wrote about their work, a brainstorm of ideas that could help expand their business, etc.

Word-for-Word Script

Hi [insert name],

Hope you’re well and things at [their company] are going smoothly.

I’ve been meaning to connect with [VIP name] in regards to working at their company. I noticed on LinkedIn that you’re connected to them.

I wanted to gauge your comfort level with [VIP name] to see if you’d be comfortable making an introduction. No pressure at all, but thought it was worth asking.

If that’s something you would consider, let me know and I can draft up a forwardable email that you can send along.

Hope to speak soon,

Forwardable Email (using an example of wanting to offer marketing services to a VIP).

Hi [mutual contact name],

Thanks so much for offering to introduce me to [VIP name]. I’ve been a fan of her work for a very long time and wanted to offer my assistance in helping her company’s marketing efforts. I really believe in what she’s working on and I’m confident our firm can help spread her mission.

We’ve worked with clients like [insert your credibility markers or common ground points here]. Here’s a link with some ideas our team came up with on how to pitch her new book [VIP name].

I’d love to have a 15 min phone call to connect and see if there are other ways that I can be helpful, even if it’s not connected with my firm.

Conclusion

Knowing how to network the right way is an important part of your business and/or your career. By taking advantage of some of the science behind how we connect with other people you can begin building a network worth millions of dollars in career opportunities, raises, business opportunities and more.

This article was originally posted on Land Any Job You Want by Katrina Razavi, communication coach and founder of CommunicationforNerds.com.

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