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Etiquette for Online Outreach



Online networking is all the rage, as Internet tools make it easy for us to reach out to almost anyone who has a presence online. Lofty executives, potential clients, and future employers are within easy reach to anyone with a browser and an email account. But it won't do to rush off and start blasting off email messages to strangers -- that's a recipe for being ignored or added to an email blacklist.

Take the time to think through your online networking approach, and your results will improve dramatically. Here are five tips to get you going.


It's Not All About You


When you've read about an interesting person you'd like to get to know, it pays to dig a little deeper before you launch an introduction via email. An email message with the subject line "Loved your article" has a much better chance of being read than one titled "Hope you can help me."

If you want to establish a relationship, spend half an hour online and learn a few things about the person you're interested in meeting.


Cut to the Chase


Most of us reach out to well-placed strangers when we need help with something -- finding a new job, closing a plum client, or meeting a person who's otherwise out of our reach. So when you launch a networking overture, come to the point. No one has time to read the saga that describes your last 15 jobs, as fascinating as it may be. You've got to say, "I was hoping that you can advise me on my Marketing job search." Be specific.

Don't ever send your resume as an attachment to a person you don't know -- it's presumptuous, and raises fears of computer viruses. Ask, instead, for one specific thing, perhaps a bit of emailed advice on best companies for brand managers or some tips on moving from Operations into IT. Your target person's time is valuable, and you want to demonstrate that you know that.


Offer to Reciprocate


People think that it sounds silly to offer to help the person whose help you are seeking, but it's not. It's far better to write, "Of course, I would love to help you in any way I can, as well" than to behave as though you believe perfect strangers should be falling down with eagerness to assist you with your projects.

Don't be surprised if the person you're looking to contact takes you up your offer. He or she may have a young relative graduating from college who needs an "in" at your employer. Networking is about reciprocity.


Don't Press Your Advantage


Let's say you've reached out to a VP at a major manufacturer, and you've now exchanged email messages a couple of times. That's great. Be happy about your new contact, and don't push the young relationship by introducing six of your closest friends to your newest associate or adding your new pal to your newsletter distribution list.


Close the Circle


If you write to a technology expert asking for a technical answer and you get one, write back immediately to express your gratitude. After you've implemented the solution, write again and say so. It's frustrating for a person to take time helping a networker with an issue, and then never to hear from him or her again. Close the circle by writing, "Dear Allan, thanks for your job-search networking tips. I'm happy to say I got the job, and I owe you a beer the next time you're in Milwaukee!"

Savvy networkers know that the power of networking is in the quality of the relationships they build, not the number of people they know or their titles. Cultivate your connections with your focus on the people, and your network will pay you back in spades.


Liz Ryan is a 25-year HR veteran, former Fortune 500 VP and an internationally recognized expert on careers and the new millennium workplace. She is the author of "Happy About Online Networking," creator of the Career Bound workshop, and founder of the global women's organization formerly known as WorldWIT. Contact Liz at

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