International students always ask me how they can follow up with contacts they’ve made. I tell them that following up is actually more challenging than making the initial connection. Why? Because good follow up has to be meaningful, and there’s very little meaning in a follow up message that says “Hi, I just wanted to follow up.” A few messages like that, and your emails are likely to find their way to your contact’s auto-delete list. Where’s the value?
How to make following up work for you
So what do you say when following up? The key to good follow up is to pay attention during your initial meeting. What interests the person? What challenges are they facing that you might be able to help with? What things do you have in common. Students constantly say, “but I’m just a student. What could I possibly offer to someone who’s already established professionally?” The truth is, quite a bit. If your contact went to your school, you can keep him or her abreast of what’s going on on campus. Any cool events coming up? Any ways you can invite the person to come and speak to other students, perhaps for a club event? Pay attention to comments made during small talk. Has the contact just had a flooded basement, babysitter quit, computer problems or any of a million other common challenges happen? Do you know anyone who might be able to help with those things? Maybe your contact is looking to fill a position that you wouldn’t be a good fit for. Do you know anyone who might be?
Delivering value is the best way to be remembered when following up, and the best way to earn help for yourself. If you can’t think of a good way to deliver something specifically helpful in your follow up, use the “thinking about you because…” device. This is really easy. Just think of something that you and your contact spoke about, and send a note saying that something in your day made you recall that item in your conversation. For example, “In operations class today, we were talking about some of the challenges with multi-national supply chains. It made me think of our conversation on that subject. Hope you’re well. Dan.” And that’s it.
Don’t make your messages too long or your contact will stop reading them. Follow up should be short, meaningful and relatively infrequent. You want your contact to look forward to reading your messages, not deleting them upon arrival. Be creative, and have fun. If your messages are interesting and maybe a little unusual, they’ll be read and you’ll be remembered. Everybody likes something original, helpful or funny. Always deliver value!