Here’s a true story of follow up failure . . .
Once upon a time, in a land of accelerated unemployment, a well-connected and experienced coach volunteered to share advice at a national online career fair.
During the event, she talked to 15 different job seekers from all walks of life.
At the end of each conversation, the coach offered to connect each person with others in their industry or field of interest. Her only request: email her to get the ball rolling.
(You probably see where this story is going.)
Five days later, only two of the 15 had emailed. Thirteen other job seekers were a follow up failure.
What’s even more painful is that a friend in the expert’s network had an opening that might have been a fit for one of the seekers.
But the seeker never followed up.
Why do we fail to follow up, especially when it’s in our best interest?
The art of the follow-up is more critical in our careers than ever. And yet, our level of skill is getting weaker and weaker.
Maybe it’s because we have more distractions. Or maybe our short-term memories are weaker since we rarely have to remember anything, instead relying on the googleplex.
In truth, though, it’s all about the excuses.
When I catch people in a follow up failure, I’ll always ask why. Here are the four excuses I hear over and over, along with practical tips you can use if you’ve been hiding behind that excuse, too.
Excuse #1: “I didn’t have time.”
Sure, you’re busy.
But are you busy with the right things?
If you’re looking for a new job or ways to grow, being busy with the wrong things is a trap.
Building better relationships with people is always a right thing. Choose it over everything else.
Here’s a simple strategy to help you build relationships by following up:
- When you commit to a meeting or other event, you likely put on your calendar. (If you’re not using a calendar to track your commitments and instead are keeping them all inside your busy brain, let’s just stop that now.)
- When you’re adding the event to your calendar, do this at the same time:
- Block out another 15 minutes the same day (or the day after at the latest) for your follow up time.
- Block out 15 minutes one month later to followup with the same person/people. Write the specifics in your calendar notice.
- During that first block of time, send a thank you email to the person (or people—a separate note each)—who you met with. (Not sure what to say? Keep reading for other scripts.) Invite them to connect on LinkedIn if you’re not already connected (and don’t forget to personalize the invitation.)
- During the second block of time a month later, check in. Tell them you were thinking about them, ask them how they’re doing, etc. If there was a specific suggestion they’d made to you, tell them how you took that advice.
Short emails can take minutes. If you have the person’s postal mail address, a written thank you takes ten minutes max, especially if you keep notecards and stamps on hand. So you’ve got the time – now just use it.
Excuse #2: “I wasn’t sure what to do/write/say.”
Author Seth Godin is known to say that there’s no such thing as writer’s block. “No one ever gets talker’s block,” he states.
Every virtual connection represents a real live person. Would you get blocked on what to say to them if you were still standing face-to-face with them? Probably not.
So let’s start with the basics.
- “It was great to meet you” is certainly appropriate (and yes, even if you met online it still “counts” as meeting.
- Thanks for your time” works too.
- “I’m glad that [NAME OF FRIEND] introduced us.”
- “I hope you enjoyed the [event where we met].”
- “I’d like to stay in touch” is good – especially if you do!!
- “I valued your help and please let me know what I can do for you.”
You can say the same things in your personalized LinkedIn invitation (because, of course you’re connecting with them, right?)
Most importantly, if there was an action or opportunity you really want to keep alive, remind them of it.
- “I appreciate your offer to connect me with one or two people in your network who’ve already become PMPs .. .”
- “Thanks in advance for making the introduction to the recruiter at BarnBurners—I’d love to learn more about the work they’re doing there.”
- “I’m looking forward to reading the book you recommended—I’ve downloaded it to my Kindle!”
A reminder is not a criticism; it’s a service. Unless you’re incredibly memorable, don’t assume they can recall everything they’ve said to everyone.
Excuse #3: “I don’t want to seem pushy, desperate or needy.”
Why do you care?
Seriously, we tend to guess how people are going to judge us before we actually give them the chance to make up their own minds.
In a world increasingly longing to connect, many people are more than willing to help when asked.
While you might think your request is pushy, the person you’re asking might cherish the opportunity to serve.
Excuse #4: “No one followed up with me – why should I?”
Yes, even if you are a follow-up rockstar, it’s the sad truth that others are not.
And it’s getting in their way.
Don’t dumb-down your strength based on what others do. Follow-up efforts make you stand out – and others sit up and take notice.
The story above has a happy ending for one job seeker who did follow-up.
The expert (okay, it was me) immediately connected the seeker to a colleague in her industry who was happy to share insights and leads.
For the cost of the seeker’s short, 30-word email ($0, three minutes max), she created a fresh connection to new possibilities. Now that’s a return on investment!!
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