How to make professional connections online
Carol Chan is a writer for BUILT BY GIRLS, which prepares the next generation of female and non-binary leaders to step into their power and break into their careers. WAVE is the backbone of BUILT BY GIRLS: it’s a 1:1 matching program that connects high school and college students with top tech professionals across the country. For more information and to sign up check out builtbygirls.com.
Making genuine professional connections has always been difficult and this virtual world does not make it any easier. Or does it?
If approaching people awkwardly at networking events has never been your style, we might have found a silver lining to this digital-first world. My biggest takeaway is: Don’t underestimate the power of a great cold email or LinkedIn message.
When I quit my job four years ago with the intention of a career pivot, I reached out to strangers with career paths I aspired to. While not everyone responded, I actually received a lot of replies that led to coffee meetings or phone calls.
Here’s some advice for making genuine connections virtually:
Show off who you are
Avoid sounding like a robot or using a template that’s devoid of your personality. Hint: Start with a template but tweak it to sounds like you.
Professionals get a lot of cold emails, so you need to stand out to capture their attention. Introduce yourself and share both relevant personal and professional interests. If you have online links to your portfolio, side projects, or work — even better. You want to start building a repertoire right off the bat.
Share why you’re interested in connecting
Most people love helping others, but people also want to be valued for their time. They don’t want to think that you copy and pasted the same message to 10 other people.
Clearly communicate what piqued your interest about them or their career path. Is it their industry experience? Or maybe you share the same alma mater? Whatever it might be, don’t be afraid to share.
Be specific about your request
Don’t just end the note with: “Would love to connect!” Be specific about what you hope to gain. For example: “I’d love to have a quick 20-minute video call to learn about your decision to transition from product management to software engineering.”
While you should be specific about the topic, be flexible about your scheduling. Don’t say “Does next Tuesday at 3pm work for you?” Instead, offer a time range that spans the next two weeks.
After you hit “send” on that note, your work isn’t done. Keep track of who you’ve reached out to and make sure to follow up in a few days. If you still don’t get a response, don’t take it personally. They’re not obligated to respond and may simply just be busy.
Finally, remember that networking is not just about getting in front of people in positions of power. I’ve reached out to peers and have gained so much insight about how to navigate this professional world together!
Read more information and tips in our Advice section