Human beings are social creatures, designed to be of service to one another. That’s how we evolved over millennia. It’s also the foundation of what we today call “networking.”
When I think of networking, I think of men in business suits swapping business cards at an official function. But the truth is, it is much more than that. Networking is the art of making meaningful and lasting professional relationships that are mutually beneficial. Simply put: networking is an organic win-win. People helping people. Exchanging value. Efficiently. Openly. Repeatedly.
If you’re not an established player in your industry, networking with established players might seem daunting. To that end, each semester I ask my students to identify someone who has a career they admire and respect and to email them requesting an informational meeting (not solicit a job). This is the first step in creating a professional network and a great way to uncover details about a particular career you are interested in (and from someone who is doing what you think you’d like to do someday).
Seems like a simple assignment, but it can be really challenging, so let me breakdown the six key elements of approaching an established player by sharing my Cal Fussman story.
My life was changed in March of 2016 when I heard the Tim Ferriss podcast in which he interviewed New York Times bestselling author Cal Fussman. Cal has interviewed legends like Muhammad Ali, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Serena Williams, to name but a few. He has also written books on Jackie Robinson and Larry King, and had a long-running column in Esquire magazine. I was so moved by his 3-hour and 22-minute podcast that I listened to it TWICE! Cal is an incredible story teller, and I learned so much about asking the right questions that I thought he’d be a terrific guest speaker for my USC class.
I’d never met Cal, but I’ve always believed that it you want something bad enough you can make it happen. Making and cultivating business relationships is one of my superpowers. As a matter of fact, there is no established player that I wouldn’t reach out to under the right circumstances.
So I emailed Cal’s representative first. Then Cal and I emailed directly, and about 18-months later, I met Cal when he was a guest speaker in my class. It didn’t happen quickly, but it did happen. Cal delighted my class with incredible stories and moved so many of us that one of my students asked him sincerely, “Can you be my Granddad?”
I don’t have a secret playbook on how to get connected, but I let passion and natural interest be my guide. I want to show you what I did with Cal in hopes that it inspires you to reach out to an industry professional and ask for an informational interview. Here are six components of to how to connect with an established industry player (and I’ll show you what was in my initial email to Cal):
I just listened to your conversation with Tim Ferriss. Like a fine wine, you hit all the right notes. I’m a little drunk in the ear at the moment, so I hope my words come out right. You dazzled me!
I’m an adjunct professor at USC and teach a course on how to land your first job in entertainment. I loved your story about the woman on the train and how it came full circle with Petra many years later. We should all just take a risk. You are right on the money about HR not asking the right questions in an interview. I’m going to incorporate your “Dr. Dre” question about passion into my interviews—it’s a great question and really tells you what you need to make a decision about if someone is right for the position that requires more than punching a clock. But the most important take away I got was about listening. Thank you for the reminder, and thank you for being a joy to listen to!
If you ever want to be a guest speaker in my class at USC in the Fall, I’d love to have you!
Have a great day! Krista
Don’t be afraid to reach out with a brief, yet compelling, email demonstrating both knowledge and enthusiasm for the person’s work. In addition to what you say, how you say it matters. Don’t guilt-trip someone into helping you. Use language that will be open, and give the person an easy out if they don’t want—or can’t—do what you would like them to. It isn’t that serious, so be easy breezy.
I was truly moved by Cal’s podcast, especially the way in which he crafted his stories. I couldn’t help but get to my keyboard and write to him. He talked about wine, meeting people, and other things in his podcast, and I demonstrated not only my knowledge of his work, but my true enthusiasm by stating what moved me most (girl on the train and Dr. Dre question). He knew I wasn’t just making it up; that I really listened to his words and had an appreciation of his work.
Be Specific in What You Have to Offer
It not about what you can get; it’s about what you can give. You always want to know your power within the confines of your current situation. Leverage that power. In this case, I teach at the number-one film school in the world. Getting in front of the next generation of Hollywood could be appealing to an established player. You may be an actress working at a hot restaurant, so in your email, requesting a 15-minute informational meeting could include, “If ever you need a reservation at Catch, please ask for me when you call and I’ll give you the VIP treatment.” Or other times, your power lies in the fact that you and the person you are writing to went to the same university. People want to help young people, especially ones who went to their alma mater.
Be Specific in What You Want (but don’t bombard with details)
I made a request for Cal to speak to my class. I kept it loose, without a date or time, as I needed to first gauge his interest. I knew I could always find a date to fit Cal if he was interested. I also made sure that when I asked Cal for something, it was something he could actually deliver.
Give it Time
As much as I like an immediate result, a cake needs time to bake and a lemon needs time to grow. Sometimes, you need to let time lead you. My email to Cal was March 16, 2016, and he spoke to my class on Sept 7, 2017. Good ideas, relationships, and steak all need time to marinate, so allow the process to happen. Expect it. Your timetable isn’t necessarily someone else’s timetable. Don’t be afraid to follow up appropriately. Experience has taught me you must always follow up. If you don’t get a response, a second follow up is perfectly fine a week or two later. If you don’t get a response after that, drop it. When an established player doesn’t respond, it means they’re not going to. Don’t think about it too much; just keep moving.
Put all of your contact information at the bottom of the email and make sure your website, social media, and any other key information can be easily found online. In the case of Cal, he responded with a nice comment on one of my blogs. Sometimes people will research a stranger on social media before they respond, so remember to perform an audit of your social media to ensure whoever is contacting you won’t be scared off!