Turning a newly received business card into a professional contact requires follow up. Students and lower ranking professionals are the ones expected to initiate contact once the networking session is over. This should be done in the first 24-48 hours, and repeated as necessary. Here is what you need to know to maintain a strong connection.
Take notes: After the first meeting, make a note of what you talked about and any small personal details the contact mentioned such as pets, likes/dislikes, or recent travels. This can be done on the business card itself, or on a small post-it note stuck onto the card.
Initiate a follow up: In the next day or two, send an email and/or written letter reminding the person about your conversation. The subject line should read “Great meeting you at xxxx”. Mention something you talked about and attach a relevant news article, or comment on a previous discussion. You may also connect through LinkedIn (always add a personalized message!) or Twitter. Tip: to add a personalized message, you must click the “Connect” button on the contact’s profile, not the one on the search result list.
Ask to meet: If you wish to meet up, this is the time to ask. You can ask for a 15 minute phone call or a short meeting or, should your contact doesn’t have time, offer to send them a few questions by email. Thank your contacts ahead of time for their help, and send a thank you letter after a meeting or phone call.
State your goal: There is no harm in mentioning your objective for connecting with the person, as long as you don’t come across as selfish or demanding. Instead of asking about job openings in your contact’s department, say something like “This summer I see myself as a marketing intern and am actively seeking internships.” This lets the person you are ambitious but not taking advantage of them.
Following up is a continuous process. Try to connect with your contacts on a regular basis. This can be once a month, or once every few months. Your periodic updates can be in the form of an email with an informative post, or a thoughtful question. Another great way to maintain a professional relationship is to introduce people. If you know someone who you feel could be of interest to your contact, cc and introduce your friend in an email, or arrange a meeting. Both sides may soon be thanking you, as referrals are the top source of external hires.