I frequently receive messages and emails from people I don’t know. In most cases they came across my LinkedIn, IG, or FB and summoned up the courage to reach out with questions related to either my job/work/career or regarding my life/photography/the world.
While responding to these messages always takes time, I make an effort to do so. Simply because I think it takes courage for someone to reach out cold to another person they wish to get advise from. It’s a risky thing to do because you expose yourself to potential rejection (getting a weird or no response).
That said, some messages I get are super thoughtful and responding to them is pure joy because I feel the person is really going to take my advice to heart. Other times, I feel the person is just throwing some questions at me in the hopes of building some sort of relationship – their intention is not clear and the outcome of me spending time to respond is uncertain.
I therefore wanted to share five quick thoughts on how to “reach out better”
1) When you write someone, always have a clear objective. Mention that objective upfront so the context of your outreach becomes clear from the beginning. For example: “Hi X, I am writing you because I am interested in the company you are working in and I hope to ask you a few specific questions that will help me evaluate a job offer."
2) When you reach out to someone and you really don’t a very clear objective but just really hope to get to know that person, just say it. The other day I reached out to a partner at a leading VC firm in the Valley. My goal was to connect with him over his China experience, but since I didn’t feel my intention was strong enough, I added that “..I also really just want to meet you in person because I admire your career path and the work you are doing."
3) Be very specific in your email. The other day someone wrote me with very generic questions along the lines of: "can you share more about the culture at your company?” I didn’t know that person, that person was not applying to any role, and I just couldn’t make sense of why I should be spending 10+ minutes typing a vague response to an even vaguer question. Again, be very specific: "I have the following five questions for you (list them!) and I think I can have them answered with 15 minutes of your time. Would you have time you for a quick call?”
4) When someone took the time and responded to you, or jumped on a call to help you out, always (!) make sure to circle back with that person to let them know what the outcome was. There are so many people I talked to about their business school applications, but very few ever got back to me to share what happened in the end. If you ask for advice, make sure to close the loop later on. I think it’s a matter of respect.
5) And here is a tip for warm intros. I sometimes have friends who intro someone to me without asking me first. And basically what they are doing is committing 30-60 minutes of my time, unknowing of whether I even see myself capable of helping that person. I find these intros well-intended but rude, and I encourage you to always make sure that whatever contact of yours you are asking for an intro to a target person, that you ask your contact to check with your target person first if they are open to an intro.