I joined Ness Labs and few months ago with the hopes of meeting like-minded people. About a month ago, I saw a workshop for “The Art, Science, and Practice of Reaching Out.” While I missed the event, I watched the recorded video, in which the host spoke with Molly Beck about her book, Reach Out, and the online class, Reach Out Party, the two had started. As I’m not in an industry where networking is traditionally viewed as a vital skill, I can easily go months without meeting any new people professionally. But I know that the importance of scientific collaborations is only increasing and that the only reason I am here in France is by reaching out to my ‘weak tie’ network, so I thought I’d pick up a Kindle copy of the book and see if it had any tips. While the tone of the book probably aligns better with a female New York City marketing strategist straight out of college, there were a few things that I learned and a few others that I knew but were nice to emphasize.
Don’t underestimate your weak ties.
‘Weak ties’ are the people at the edge of your network, with whom you may not have spoken in years (as opposed to the ‘strong ties’ you see everyday). Because they tend to cover a broader range of areas of expertise and aren’t biased by daily interactions with you, they can help to further expand your network and are more likely to help you get a new job. I reached out to a friend from undergrad with whom I hadn’t regularly interacted when I was looking for postdocs in France, and that interaction is the reason I’m in Montpellier today.
Comfort with discomfort equals freedom.
“When we can become more comfortable with the discomfort (and remind ourselves they’ll pass, however painful), we can open up to the risk that comes along with putting ourselves out there.” Similar to Rejection Therapy, if we make a regular point of deliberately experiencing discomfort, we become less afraid of the mostly unrealistic ‘negative consequences’ that plague our thoughts. Beck did this by resolving to engage in one ‘Reach Out’ each workday (5x per week). Not only does that help take the sting out of any ignored messages, but it also gamifies it a bit as you can try to gather stats on how likely you are to get a response from different groups (80% for a close friend vs. 25% for a ‘cool’ stranger).
Use templates to your advantage.
While obviously you should do your research and personalize each message, there is a certain checklist or flow that one can apply to Reach Outs. Beck suggests formulating it as a Gift and a Favor.
For the Gift, she recommends choosing at least two of the following to include:
- #1: A compliment, plus one additional gift from the list below
- #2: An article or book recommendation
- #3: Knowledge you have access to that they don’t or something special only you can create
- #4: A press opportunity
- #5: Free advice on a skill you have that would benefit them.
The Favor, which can be optional, should consist of a particular, definable question whose answer cannot be found on Google and can be answered easily in a paragraph or so via email.
Crafting a thoughtful and compelling Reach Out is thus a combination of parts, but that is targeted to that particular person in a way that is both flattering and makes any ask of them non-obvious and a minimal requirement of their time.
I know that I’m someone who likely won’t naturally reach out to people without some external framework in place. I’m trying to set up a similar ‘5 Reach Outs as Week’ schedule, though after only a few weeks I’m struggling to think of enough people. So I may modify that, or maybe I just need a good long brainstorming session to make a list like for my Gratitude Letters, but hopefully a year from now this will have uncovered opportunities I wouldn’t have found otherwise.
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