There is arguably no more powerful job-seeking, PR, or marketing tool than connecting with people one-on-one. And chances are, by now, you’re familiar with many of the best ways to find and reach out to the people you want to get in front of. (But if you’re not, check out tips here, here, and here.)
But what if those people aren’t quite as interested in getting themselves in front of you? Do you use best practices for following up, or do you take the hint and never contact them again?
It all depends on the situation. Here are three of the most common networking request scenarios I’ve seen (and experienced!) and tips on how to handle them.
Situation #1: You Get No Answer at All
Many of the same rules I use for following up with journalists apply to following up with networking contacts: You should be persistent, but you shouldn’t go so far as to annoy the crap out of them. (If you annoy the crap out of them, they’re never going to respond.)
If you get no answer to your initial request, give it a week (or two), then email them again. Include the first email in the follow-up, so they have some context and see that it’s the second attempt. If you get no answer again, give it another week, and then try one last time. However, if you still hear nothing, then it’s time to let it go.
Unless—and here’s the exception—it’s urgent that you get in touch with the person and you’re working on a deadline. (Note: Wanting to meet someone because you think he or she can help you with your job search is not urgent.) Then, and only then, can you try making a quick phone call. Just have your intro and request down to two or three sentences, so if you do manage to get them on the phone, you can quickly get to the point. When you don’t try to take up too much of their time, they’ll be more inclined to say yes.
Situation #2: You Get “No” as the Answer
Here’s where you need to do a little digging to figure out if no means no, or if no means “I’m really busy right now but might consider your request when I have more time.”
First, determine where this contact falls on your priority list.
Is this the one person who has to potential to make all your hopes and dreams come true? If so, then it’s a good idea to politely follow up and thank your contact for getting back to you. Explain why you’d really love to meet him—be sure to include a compelling reason—and ask if he’d be open to a very quick meeting, wherever is convenient for him, in a few weeks (or months, or whenever he has a little more time).
Then, consider whether this is a contact you found yourself, or if your introduction came through someone else.
Having spent the last decade in PR, here’s a secret that’s probably not-so-secret: People get funny about their contacts. So, yes, you may be desperate to have coffee with the editor of your favorite magazine, but if that introduction came through someone else and the editor told you no, you don’t want to jeopardize that person’s relationship with the editor by pestering him further.
If this happens to you, I recommend following up with the person who gave you the editor’s contact details to see if he or she can introduce you in an email or set up a quick coffee meeting for all three of you.
Situation #3: You Get a “Yes,” Have a Great Meeting—and Then, Crickets
In my experience, this is the most common outcome. The bad news is, it’s totally disappointing and frustrating, especially after the work you put in to make the meeting happen to begin with.
The good news: The lack of response almost always comes down to being busy—your contact was out of town, got bogged down in meetings, got consumed by a new project, or just flat-out forgot.
To make sure you’re able to keep up the momentum after the meeting, ask what your contact’s upcoming schedule looks like before the initial meeting is over. Is there anything you can do to get the ball rolling, like following up in a week to see how things are progressing? This will help you stay on his or her radar.
If you’re struggling to figure out how to re-engage after the meeting, use the model from situation #1. In short, you get three tries. After that, you hit stalker status.
The word “networking” can give many of us an icky feeling, but when we get down to what it really is—introducing ourselves to people who might be able to help us in some way—it feels more human. When you’re trying to decide what step to take next, give yourself a gut check. Would whatever you’re doing (e.g., emailing for the third time, calling someone’s assistant for the 20th time) drive you insane? Or would you be grateful for the reminder?
In most cases, that’s your best answer.