How to Turn a Stranger Into a Professional Connection

Maybe you came across them on LinkedIn, walked past them in your office building, or attended a talk they gave at your university. Their resume is mindblowing, their body of work esteemed, and their approval desired. One thing is clear: you need to shake their hand.

Developing a professional crush is perfectly normal during the time you’ll spend finding a job. You’ve got the right idea: around 85% of all jobs are filled by networking and leveraging connections , and when you come across someone who can potentially help launch your dream career by taking you under their wing, it’s normal to become a bit obsessed.

While getting on their good side may seem daunting, showing up on their radar is definitely not impossible--especially if you’re truly passionate about your professional development in the field they’ve made their name in. All it takes is one initial meet to make a lasting first impression, and some charismatic follow-ups to build a genuine relationship. We’re here to help you make that happen.

The First Impression

Don't make it awkward...

(Hint: You don’t want it to be this awkward) Via Giphy .

While it is technically possible to make a first connection via email or social media, there’s no guarantee that they’ll respond to someone they’ve never met before, as there wouldn’t be if someone you didn’t know cold emailed you! So, you’ll want to do a bit of digging to see if you can finagle a more direct way to introduce yourself.

A great place to start is by checking out their LinkedIn on the off chance you have any shared connections that’d be happy to provide an introduction. If you find that they’ll be in your city to speak at a conference, try your hardest to attend and approach them afterwards to let them know you enjoyed their talk. If they’re a professor at another university, contact the higher-ups in the same department at your own university to see if they’d have the ability to introduce you.

Even if you can’t find a way to end up in the same room as them right away, still try to conduct as much research on them as you can so you’re prepared to chat about how your interests and passions match their experience once you do find a way to meet them.

When you do meet them in person, introduce yourself and strike up a conversation about how you’ve followed their work or the companies they’ve worked for, and express your desire to work in a similar position. The more animated you are, the better! You’re trying to illustrate that it’s your passion and drive that’s brought you to them.

But do not appear like you’re only talking to them because you want a job. The goal is to show that you’re interested in learning from them! To show them this, do your best to ask a few informed questions about their industry, and do what you can to add as much of your own insight to the conversation as possible.

Though there’s a chance they’ll offer to chat with you at a later date, there’s no need to wait for them to make the offer; remember, you’re the one initiated the conversation! Finish strong and end the conversation by asking for their email so you can stay in touch.

And remember, if you’re completely unable to meet face-to-face, finding their email and reaching out to express the same interest you would in person won’t hurt.

The First Follow-Up

Following up is a great way to stay top of mind

Smart idea. Via Giphy .

Now that you’ve made first contact, it’s time to start building the relationship. The first step: reach out via email a day or two after you meet them to let them know that you enjoyed the conversation you shared. Try to bring up something you talked about to jog their memory, and be sure to ask how they’ve been doing has been since you last met. Bonus points if you attach an interesting article about a topic that relates to what you discussed and ask for their opinion about it!

When you’re wrapping up your message, you’ll want to let them know what you’ve got a couple of questions about their career path that you’d like to ask when they have the chance to chat. This’ll show that you’re still interested in their insight, and will pave the way for future conversation.

If they seem willing to meet or talk with you again in their response, go ahead and ask them when they’d be free to briefly meet for coffee. They’ll most likely agree if they’ve been open to communicating with you thus far, unless they’re ridiculously busy. Ask them what area of the city is most convenient for them, and do your best to locate the coolest coffeeshop in the area for you to meet (especially if they’ve mentioned that they’re really into coffee!). Once the date’s set, prepare your list of questions and do a bunch more research on their work, company, and field to arm yourself with as much material as possible to keep the conversation flowing.

If meeting in person isn’t a possibility, though, all is not lost. While you won’t be able to shake their hand through a screen, planning a video or phone call is your next best option.

The Coffee Meeting

Winston from New Girl insisting it's just coffee

But make sure to take advantage of it, if the opportunity presents itself. Via Giphy .

We are BIG fans of informational interviews , so you’re on the right track! If your contact has agreed to meet you for coffee and a chat, chances are you’ve already begun developing rapport with them about their career and your aspirations. At this meeting, you’ll be further developing that relationship so it can potentially lead to a lasting connection (and perhaps a job opportunity down the line!).

Be sure to come prepared with your list of questions and topics you’d like to cover so you can keep conversation moving if there’s a lull, and don’t shy away from personal questions (within reason, of course). While asking your new connection about their relationship with their parents is isn't the best idea, inquiring about their own dreams and aspirations from their college days is totally fair game, and gives you the opportunity to relate your own story to yours.

Since you’ve chosen to track them down because of their accomplishments in their field, it’s inevitable that at some point during the conversation, they’ll mention things about their job that you’ll be absolutely enamored with. Say, you’ve chosen to contact them because they’re a CMO at a startup, and they explain how they reworked the company’s entire marketing strategy during their first year on the job. That’s an awesome opportunity for you to express how you’d be grateful for the chance to work on a project of that scale; if you actually are interested in working for the company they're employed by, don’t be afraid to let them know you’d love to have the chance to work there.

If they’ve taken a genuine interest in you (which they probably have, because you’re awesome), chances are they’ll offer you some sort of opportunity, even if it’s just a chance to meet some of their co-workers or tour their office. But just as a word of caution: don’t come to automatically expect it. There’s nothing that’ll sour the relationship faster than being an entitled jerk.

Staying in Touch

Stay friends, stay in touch

Be genuine in your emails too. Via Giphy .

Once you’ve met or spoken for the second time, make sure you’re actively trying to keep in touch! Send them an email follow-up to thank them for taking the time to meet and chat with you, and reach out whenever you reach a milestone in your professional life to keep them updated with what you’re up to.

You don’t need to interview them every week to keep the connection alive; a quick text or email every now and again to share an article, ask how they’ve been, or show off a project you’ve been working on is all it takes. Even if they don’t have the ability to offer you a job at the moment, maintaining the relationship will ensure that they’ll think of you if they come across a position in their company or field that they think you’d be a great fit for.

Plus, there’s always the chance that they’ll be willing to write you a recommendation should you need one when applying for other positions in the future.

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No luck finding that dream job, even after schmoozing all the top-dogs in your field? Not to worry! Head over to Planted and we’ll help you track down a startup job where you’ll feel right at home.

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Justin is a freelance writer, photographer, and Fordham University senior studying digital media and journalism. When he’s not typing away, he’s out on the street with his camera, schmoozing photogenic strangers and taking their portraits, eating prosciutto, or lounging on a roof somewhere in The Bronx.

Original version of featured image by StockSnap .