I’m all about being upfront when you network. It’s helpful to be honest about why you’re reaching out (for example, you’re going through a job search or moving to a new city). It can combat nerves and help the process feel more genuine. In other words, it instantly solves two core issues many people stress about when told to network.
That said, as with anything else, you know there’s a difference between being straightforward and being overly blunt. For example, you know to write “I was thinking of approaching the project from a different angle” over “I hate all of your ideas.”
Aspiring to find this balance, many people begin networking emails with “Remember me?” or even, “You probably don’t remember me…” After all, why not begin with an honest admission so the other person knows you aren’t being fake? Well, unfortunately, this approach often backfires. While you’re coming from a sincere place, it’s pretty audacious to ask for something from someone whom you’re blatantly admitting you barely know.
But the fix is simpler than you’d think. Just skip over the line that roughly translates to: “We’re practically strangers.” Here’s how:
1. For Someone You Met Once: “We Met at [Event]”
You had a brief conversation, exchanged business cards, connected on LinkedIn—and haven’t been in touch since. Maybe you even had to think for a minute about exactly how you know each other, so starting your email with “Remember me?” seems totally reasonable.
But imagine if you saw that person face-to-face. Would you start by sharing that it took you a few minutes to place them, or wait until you remembered and then reintroduce yourself with how you’re connected? The second option helps conversation flow more naturally (and an ask won’t feel as out of place). It sounds like this:
We met at last year’s Developers’ Conference in Tampa, where we bonded over the fact that we’d both recently given up coffee. (Update: I only lasted three weeks.) I’m reaching out because I remember you work at [Company Name] and they have an opening I’m interested in. Could I email you a few questions about what it’s like working there?
2. For Someone You Haven’t Spoken to in a While: “I See From LinkedIn That…”
If you used to be in touch with someone, then stopped communicating, and suddenly want to reconnect, there’s probably a reason why. Maybe that former contact is the only person you’ll know in your new city, or you’re reaching out as you eye a transition back to your old field.
“Remember me” misses the mark in this scenario because obviously your old acquaintance knows who you are. It’s more of a nod to the fact that you haven’t made time to stay in touch—and that’s kind of a sour note to start on. So, skip sounding (and feeling) awkward, and do some internet sleuthing to get up to speed. It’ll seem a lot friendlier. It sounds like this:
I see from LinkedIn that you’re currently working in [new sector]. That’s awesome. I’ve actually been contemplating a move there and would love to hear what the transition was like for you. Would you have time for a cup of coffee, a brief phone call, or for me to send over a few questions by email?
3. For Someone Important: “It Was Great Catching Up…”
Sometimes, when you’re star struck, you can feel a kind of networking impostor syndrome. So, even if you’ve spoken with the CEO of your company or that networking contact who gives killer keynotes many times, you think, “Why would they remember me?” Even just reaching out to keep them as an active member of your network feels like you’re taking up valuable time.
Like you would before other daunting career situations, give yourself a little pep-talk: You’re thoughtful and interesting, that’s why they’ll remember who you are. Now, if you think they’ll need some context because of the sheer number of people they speak to at events, then provide it, but go on to write what you would to other contacts. Try this:
It was great catching up after your speech at the annual gala. I love the point you made about how everyone can find meaningful ways to get involved. I hope you have a great holiday season and look forward to seeing you at industry events in the New Year.
When you don’t talk to someone regularly, it’s understandable that you’d want to put extra thought into how you start your note. But remember, there’s no requirement that you lead with the fact that it’s been a while. If your note is thoughtful and brief, that’s generally all you need.
Photo of person typing courtesy of Westend61/Getty Images.