Talk to people in advertising and media about how they landed their jobs, and you'll notice a trend: It often comes down to networking. In a competitive field, even the most tenuous connection can give someone the validation to hire you.
But when cultivating professional relationships, how do you walk the line between being persistent and being flat-out annoying?
We spoke with several industry pros about how to make killer connections, from working the Twittersphere like a cocktail party to following up in a way that feels genuine. Here are their 10 biggest dos and don'ts:
Do join professional organizations
When you're new to an industry or city, the fastest way to meet a wide range of pros is to join a professional association. Matt Anchin, svp of global communications and content at Monster, recommends the American Marketing Association, the Society of Professional Journalists or the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) for recent graduates entering advertising, journalism or public relations. Link up with your alumni association while you're at it, and look for local groups like 212 NYC, which attracts young digital advertising workers with beach parties and agency quiz bowl contests.
Don't be short and selfish when meeting new contacts
"Networking is self-serving to a point, but if it's a one-way street. Nobody really wants to be involved in that kind of relationship," said Sophia Woodhouse, chief revenue officer at 212 NYC. Be curious, and ask how you can help your contacts. That adds value to the conversation for everyone.
"What you want to project out is [the] value you can bring to the potential employer," Anchin said. "Be aware that there is a professional ecosystem that you exist in and what you deliver to that ecosystem."
Do follow up with speakers at events
When you attend professional events, make the most of those endless panel discussions by introducing yourself to the speakers afterward and asking questions about something from the session. This might feel like an overly bold move, but it shows you're interested in the topic and will likely make the speaker feel flattered, not annoyed. "It makes me know they listened to me," Woodhouse said. "I'm interested to hear their response [to my panel] because it's my opinion."
Don't send generic LinkedIn invitations
LinkedIn is a good place to establish contact. But if you're reaching out to someone you don't know very well, take the time to personalize your invitation by including where you met him or why you're making the connection. "Whenever I don't know someone, and they send me a LinkedIn connection with a canned response, I always decline those," said Michele Weisman, new business manager at Likeable Media. "Those aggravate me because I don't know if this person wants to steal my connections."
Do join Twitter chats for more informal networking opportunities
For a gesture that's more subtle than a LinkedIn invite, head to Twitter to follow people you don't know well but whose work you admire. Weekly Twitter chats like #wjchat for web journalists and #AdweekChat for marketers are fantastic ways to meet peers and pick up ideas—much like the digital equivalent of a cocktail party.
"It's intimidating to go on LinkedIn and just blindly request someone's friendship without knowing who they are, but a Twitter chat allows you to interact without interacting," said Pamela Chvotkin, a freelance production assistant and stage manager. She suggested reaching out to participants after the chat to say, "Hey, I really liked your idea on this topic. I'd love to chat with you about your role at your company and explore that a little bit more."
Don't make open-ended requests
How often have you said, "We should get together sometime," and never gotten together? Your contact will be more likely to help you when you make a concrete request, like a date and length of time for a phone call, according to Woodhouse. "It's helpful to the other person because they're probably busy," she said. "If it's open-ended, it's probably not going to happen."
Do follow up, using these 3 strategies
Bridget Lichtinger, assistant director of the Newhouse Career Development Center at Syracuse University, said there are three ways networkers can follow up: with an update, a question or a common interest.
"If you were in connection with a contact, and they gave you another contact name, an update might be, 'Hey, so and so, I just wanted you to know the contact you gave me was great," Lichtinger said. "They invested in you, so they want to have a return on investment."
A good example of a question could be asking what to include in your cover letter if you heard about a job opening at a friend's company.
A common interest can be something as simple as acknowledging a shared love for a sports team or hobby. "Your listening skills come into play," Lichtinger said. "You can have a conversation outside of the job search that elevates the relationship."
Don't send mass networking emails
Lichtinger remembers one student who sent out a single email to more than 10 contacts asking for a job. "When he sent the email, everyone could see everyone else's email addresses," she said. "It was this very long 'find me a job'-type email, and he attached his resume." Understandably, the contacts were not happy.
Do keep in touch (for real)
Anchin's biggest pet peeve is when networkers don't follow up. "People connect in real life or online in some context and say, 'Hey, I'll send you an email or a phone call.' And then it evaporates," he said. "Why'd you go through the motions in the first place?"
That approach paid off for Peter Bukowski, a 29-year-old journalist in New York. He exchanged several emails with a Sports Illustrated editor then met for coffee and got the green light to pitch stories every few weeks. He followed through, and eventually the editor alerted him to several job openings and made sure the right people saw his resume and cover letter. Bukowski landed a gig as an associate producer and has been building his career there for the past three years.
Don't be afraid to reach out if you're hearing crickets
If you don't receive a response, it's not necessarily a sign the relationship is over, or even dwindling. "If people don't respond, there's nothing wrong with following up because the person is probably busy. It shows you're interested and eager," said Woodhouse. "Ask for other contacts who can help you instead."
So, how soon can you follow up? If it's regarding a time-sensitive matter like a job opening, two notes in one week is fine. For a simple update, wait a week before sending a second note. And if you're hearing silence from numerous contacts, rethink your approach. "Networking is always an evolving process, but it can always be tweaked," Lichtinger said. "Networking is unpredictable, and you need to be flexible with it."