Whether you’ve just met someone at an event, on the subway or had an exploratory meeting or interview, always follow up with a thank you. When appropriate, make sure you know what next steps might be and who will be instigating it.
For introverts this might not come naturally, or for extroverts, not seem worth the time, but it can be an effective way to organically build a robust and active network of professional connections to last throughout your career.
Here are a couple of examples of lost opportunities:
1. A few months ago I was part of a networking event at a University where professionals came in to “speed interview” students and give feedback. Someone followed up with me to see if I could meet her for coffee to talk about different career options in creative industries. She was an undergraduate, and I was impressed with her follow up. We went to coffee and she thanked me there, but afterwards I heard nothing more from her. She absolutely should have sent another thank you note, whether the meeting was helpful or not. Nothing fancy — email would have been fine. But to not acknowledge someone for taking time out of her day is not good form. Had she followed up, we could potentially stay in touch and in the future I might have a more concrete lead for her when she’s looking for work.
2. I recently heard from one of my coaching clients that he had an interview, thought it went very well, but hadn’t heard anything from them in a few weeks. A few weeks? He did send a thank you note to the appropriate people, but had heard nothing back since. He explained that he didn’t want to bother them or seem desperate. I told him that he probably seemed uninterested in the job. A better approach would have been to ask, when winding up the interview, what next steps would be or what their timing is. If they say they should know next steps early next week, then send them a thank you and wait for that time. If by Thursday or Friday you haven’t heard anything, then follow up with an email. They will appreciate your follow up and see that you’re interested in the position.
A couple other scenarios where one might not think it’s necessary to follow up could be:
You meet someone in line for a show and realize this person has some good insights on careers, but they’re in an entirely different industry. You think it’s pointless to follow up. Not true!
You never know how someone might fit into your professional orbit.
They might have a best friend who runs a creative agency or is a founder of a start up who needs creatives. Find them on Linked In and connect. Include a nice note reminding them who you are or whatever is appropriate.
You go to an event and really like the speaker. If he or she is not swept off the stage, approach them afterwards and thank them for their talk, ask them a question, but be brief and to the point. If there are too many people to deal with, send them an email. Don’t think that you’re too insignificant to acknowledge them. People love getting positive feedback. No matter how successful they are. You might even hear back from them!
The point is to think about connections as more than fleeting moments.
When you meet someone, a seed is planted and you can either walk away and let it dry up or you can feed it and watch it grow.
It’s a give and take too. Look for opportunities to help someone else as well as an opportunity to be helped. If someone mentions that they are looking for a new web designer, send them your friend’s name and contact information.
Once you start to think about it, you will see plenty of occasions to connect with people, offer help, express gratitude. Be genuine and respectful of people’s time.
Practice in your personal life as well as professional. It’s never too late to start. It will rarely annoy someone (and if it does, it has nothing to do with you). The worst case scenario is you hear nothing back from the person. But you probably won’t even notice since you will have moved on to the next connection.