I’m often asked by junior colleagues or students for advice on how to be more effective in their careers. Though there are no magic bullets, I’ve found there is one surefire way to become a better all-around professional—perfecting the art of follow-through.
Follow-through can make a big difference in every aspect of your professional and personal life. Though often overlooked by even the most seasoned professionals, closing the loop on an interaction, or following through, is the most crucial component in finding new opportunities, building relationships, and establishing your personal brand. Without follow-through, the most genuine and meaningful interactions result in missed opportunities.
Whether you are at a networking event, having a business lunch or drinks, on the job or on social media, there is an art to effective follow-through. To add value to the effort you put in making connections, focus on the four C’s:
In business, the burden of following up falls on the person who establishes the need. For example, if you meet the CEO of a PR firm where you would like to work, it’s your responsibility to follow up after your initial meeting. On the other hand, if you meet a college student interested in career advice, she should take the initiative to follow up with you.
After any interaction, follow up with the action items you agreed on within 48 hours. Make sure to include all the items you promised during your initial meeting, whether it’s your resume or an interesting article highlighting a trend you discussed.
Social media networking should be treated the same as in-person networking. Engage new or important connections via social media by retweeting and responding to relevant posts. Be sure to acknowledge how the post added value for you (e.g., “Thanks, your information did this for me”).
Context is crucial in any follow-up. Start your follow-up note with a reminder about how you met. Then mention something you have in common with the contact or something that stood out to you during your conversation to help jog your new acquaintance’s memory.
I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of students from the University of Florida. A student emailed me after the event and started his note with, “I met you when you spoke to the University of Florida’s PRSSA chapter, and you may remember me because we’re both from Coral Springs.” This is a great example of adding context, and it was helpful for me to have a point of reference, given that I met so many new faces at the event.
This is also a great way to build rapport with clients. If your client contact mentioned they were going to Spain in your last meeting, don’t forget to ask how the trip went. Follow-through isn’t just about networking; it’s about creating opportunities to strengthen relationships.
Chances are good that your new connection, client contact, boss or colleague is very busy, so be clear and concise in your follow-up communication. Keep it short, lay out your goals, and describe what you’d like your contact to do as a result of your note. He or she will appreciate your brevity and be more likely to give you what you need.
If you don’t receive a response after your initial note, it’s perfectly fine to follow up again, as long as you provide context around why you are reaching out and why you need a response. Be pleasant, and reiterate your goals. In establishing new relationships, if someone doesn’t respond after two notes, it’s reasonable to assume they are not interested.
Although your follow-up note should be professional, don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through. Be creative when infusing your personality without going overboard. A simple “Go, Gators!” or another personal anecdote can go a long way to strengthen professional relationships.
Attending networking events, meeting new people, and having meaningful conversations is just the first step in building a strong professional network. Effective follow-through closes the loop in new interactions and leads to long-term relationships.
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By following the four C’s in all professional interactions, you can improve the quality and outcomes of your exchanges and, ultimately, build a larger network of valuable, career contacts that will serve you well as your career progresses.
Christine Pietryla is the senior vice president of public relations at Walker Sands Communications.