Vague “Asks” Are a Time Suck

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Poor Queries Can Hurt the Requester

Requesting introductions from the well-connected is a great way to expand your professional network. But frequently such requests are overly vague and expansive and often lead to inaction. A good networking “ask” gains you valuable contacts without hurting your chances of being able to garner support in the future. Poor queries can eat up an incredible amount of time and the good will of your recipient. The most common mistake from a requester is a broad “ask” that leaves the burden of both identifying a contact and creating a communication to the recipient. “I’m looking for a role as a VP of Marketing at a technology company, could you please introduce me?” is a typical example of what might hit a VC’s email. Switch out venture capital firm, law department, or any field in which the recipient has spent part of her career and you can see what a burden the request is placing on the “connection.”

Don’t Make the Connector Do a Deep Dive

Such vague inquiries may mean not getting introduced to great employers or being considered for consulting projects. For a company, it might mean not getting connected to customers that could provide the greatest potential long term relationships and ultimate financial success. For entrepreneurs, not being clear about exactly who you’d like to meet and why can severely impact fundraising for a company.

If the connector has to do a deep dive to figure out what you want, it’s just not going to happen (unless you’re the connector’s child and finding you employment gets you off their payroll).

Make it Easy

As a mentor and VC, I often tell people it’s their job to help the other person help them. If you’re raising capital, develop a target list of investors who fund companies in your stage, in your industry vertical, in your geography. Think about whether they might be a good fit. Use your LinkedIn, FaceBook or college social networking site to identify who you know that is connected to your targets or that is connected to someone connected to your targets. The more connections that person has to your target and to your closest connection, the more likely they are to connect you. Isn’t this a lot of work? Absolutely, but it’s basically what you’re asking someone else to do for you! The more upfront effort you put into your target list, the potential connectors to those on your list and the more qualitative data you have about why they might want to help you, the more likely you are to reach your goal and build good will with your target and connectors. I apply this technique myself and have found that my “hit rate” is about 85%! It’s hard work that pays off.

Anything less is like sending 200 resumes out, and being surprised when there are 190 non-responses and 10 rejection slips. Better to send out 5 quality, targeted, well researched asks for referrals in one day and get 3 meetings.

Once you know who you want to reach, write the actual email you want the connector to send to the target and provide an email executive summary if you’d like to pitch the resource.

Be Specific

Specify the nature of the request and the time frame for when it’s relevant. If you are looking for work or consulting projects, be clear about exactly what you want; where geographically you want to work; and why would you be a good referral to make to the requested resource.

If you are a founder, do your homework. Is the investor you’d like to contact the right person for your company? Is their investment thesis a good market fit for your startup? Based on research (read their website, watch a video. Pay attention to their social media and thought leadership), would he or she be someone you’d want to be part of making your dream a success?

Networking for Jobs and Dollars

No one wants to spam their network. Referrers also want to be someone whose outreach provides something of value to the person being asked to consider an introduction. Do not expect the referrer to make an introduction without privately asking the potential recipient if s/he has the bandwidth or interest, to take a call or a meeting. To expect otherwise, is to ask your well-connected colleague to burden those in her network with unwanted or untimely requests. It’s just plain rude.

While almost everyone enjoys helping people they care about and/or believe in, those making requests need to do their own homework. In the words of actor Tom Cruise, the sports agent in the 90’s film Jerry McGuire, “Help me, help you!”

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Miriam Rivera
Miriam Rivera is co-founder and managing director of Ulu Ventures
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