Most people think of networking as something to do when they need a favor – they’re looking for a new job, mentor, advice, etc., so, time to start sending out the emails. This is the worst method, of course – people like to be treated like people, not favor dispensers. Good networkers are always trying to keep up with professional acquaintances, and are always looking for ways to put value into their network, not just extract it. Being a connector – making introductions between people who would benefit from knowing each other – is one of the most important ways to do this. And as with most social interactions, there’s a protocol to follow.
Let’s say that Alice is a friend, and you want to introduce her to Zoe. Zoe might be a friend, relative, colleague, acquaintance, business contact, LinkedIn connection, or the HR person at a company that rejected you. She may be more or less senior, you may be best buds or distant acquaintances. Maybe you met once at a meetup, connected on LinkedIn, and can’t even remember talking to her. Doesn’t matter. This is how it works.
Step 1: Get Alice’s permission
This part should be easy. Just make sure that Alice is cool with your introducing her around. Let her know whom you have in mind. She might already know them, or want to avoid them for some non-obvious reason. As an example, Alice might know that Zoe’s an investor in her current company, and not want it to get back to her boss that she’s thinking of leaving. Always ask first.
Hey Alice, do you know Zoe over at CompanyX? No? She and I worked together a couple years back, and I think she’d be a good person for you to meet. Would you be interested in an introduction?
Step 2: Get Zoe’s permission
This is the step that most people skip, and it’s absolutely critical. You need to ask Zoe before making the intro. Maybe Zoe is incredibly busy and doesn’t have time to deal with this right now. Maybe she already knows Alice, and would rather not take the intro. Maybe she has a shared connection with Alice, and would like to get a backchannel on her first. Hell, maybe she’s in Fiji and won’t be checking her email for the next month. Or maybe she just isn’t interested. Asking first shows respect by framing it as a request and ceding control of the process. It gives Zoe an easy way to say no, and gives you the opportunity to provide additional context in a way that might be awkward or inappropriate in the actual intro email. Lastly, it’s simply the polite thing to do.
The thing to remember is that when making an intro, you’re asking for a favor. Even if Zoe will clearly benefit (e.g., if you’re sending her a qualified lead or strong candidate), making an introduction should be framed as a request (no one will be confused by this).
Here’s what your email to Zoe might look like.
How’s life at CompanyX treating you?
I wanted to reach out because a friend of mine is starting a (confidential) job search, and I thought you’d be a good person for her to connect with. I’m not sure whether you have an open position that would make sense, but she’s had a fair amount of related technical and management experience, and I thought CompanyX might be a good fit. In case you’re interested, here’s her LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/notarealperson.
Let me know if you’d like me to make the introduction.
I was wondering if I could ask you a favor. I have a friend who’s currently managing a team over at Foo, and is considering leaving and starting up a devops consultancy. She’s an extraordinarily talented devops engineer, has deep knowledge of the various cloud providers, technologies, and best practices, and is looking for a little advice from someone who’s been around the block. Of course I immediately thought of you – would you be willing to chat with her?
Let me know!
At this point, the ball is in Zoe’s court. She can ask for more information, push off until later, say no, or say yes. If she doesn’t reply, don’t take it personally – just follow up a couple of days later (“Hey Zoe, I just wanted to follow up on this. Any interest?”). In practice, I’ve found that people almost always say yes – but if she says no, let it be. Your goal is for this to be a net positive interaction, whether or not the intro happens, or works out long term. Pestering is only going to earn you a trip to the trash folder, and potentially an inbox rule.
Step 3: Send the intro email
Styles differ, but I prefer to write the intro as something of a recapitulation of the original two emails. It can be a little awkward, because you’re writing two messages to two different people in the same email, repeating what you’ve already told each of them, but for the other person’s benefit. Luckily, at this point no one cares. Both have already signed up, and this email is just to kick things off.
Subject: Zoe/Alice intro
I wanted to introduce you to a friend of mine, Alice Kumamoto. She’s been in senior technical roles at a number of Boston startups, and is currently managing a devops team over at SmallCo Inc. She’s starting a confidential search, and based on our conversations, I thought it would be interesting for the two of you to chat.
Alice – Zoe worked with me a couple of years ago at Foosly, and is currently an investor at CompanyX. She has a front-row seat to the Boston startup scene, and is a great resource for insights into the industry in general.
Anyway, I’ll get out of the way, and let you two take it from here.
At this point, one or the other will take the lead, and eventually you’ll get shuffled off to bcc. Your part is done – take a break, grab a coffee, and bask in the glow of having done two friends a solid.