Networking 103: Preparing for Online-only Networking

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[Guest blog post] concept and writing by Rossi Walter for Ikigai Connections

Welcome

Welcome, and thanks for reading. Got some Japanese skills? Looking for your next job? Hoping to put those weeks and months of hard-earned kanji practice to good use with the right employer? Good for you! Reaching out to start new relationships with groups of people and engage in interesting work together is like a great adventure—daring, unknown, exciting! Networking online can feel the same way. 

Let’s say you’re scrolling on social media when you find what seems like the perfect job for you. What do you do? Let’s start with an example of a message that will probably not get us our ideal job. 

Hey! I loved ur video. I think itis perfect. Do you have anu jobs? — and push ‘Send’.

Even before looking at the message itself, many of us can quickly point out what went wrong here. That’s right—sudden enthusiasm and hope for the future can catch even the best of us off-guard. Let’s resist the temptation to dash off a message out of excitement when creating professional connections, especially brand new ones via online messaging. 

Instead, let’s aim to make first contact with a polished and professional networking email. Not sure how to do that? Then read on for more. 

Do Your Research

Did you already read about networking here on Ikigai Connections? If yes, great! Then you already know about the importance of making in-person connections and building a human network based around them. But, what about 100% online connections? What about relationships started via emails and direct messages on LinkedIn? Do the same rules apply? Can we use the same tools and strategies?

While we don’t just throw away all the networking strategies we learned in Networking 101 and Networking 102, the approach for 100% online networking does come with a few different requirements. One of the most important differences is understanding the value of research. When it comes to online networking, do some research before sending any message at all. 

For a clearer idea of what that means, let’s look at three different levels of research: basic research, specific research, and industry research.

Basic Research

Before sending any email to a potential employer or collaborator, it is important to know the key facts and figures of their business. Basic research will give us key information about the organization, such as the company’s leaders, the vision or mission statement, the target market(s), and even the degree of company influence. Doing basic research means collecting this information from the website of the company or organization, from LinkedIn, and from any official social media accounts like X (Twitter), Meta (Facebook) and Instagram. ※ 

Aware of these details, we can write an email that demonstrates our informed awareness of the company. Doing so highlights not only the company’s success, but also our own interest and motivation, which is key for any professional networking email

※ Have we seen this mark before? It a Japanese mark called komejirushi(米印). Komejirushi means that there is more information about the topic at hand—like more Japan-specific details in the next articles (Networking 104, Networking 105). Check them out!

Specific Research

Knowing the basics is good. Going further to demonstrate specific interest in the company is better. Specific research gives us a current view of the company’s operations, including past, ongoing, and upcoming projects. A Google search of the company will also bring up relevant news. Positive news is great: we want to know if the company has received any accolades, such as awards or grants. 

Negative news, however, is also important. We definitely want to know if it has been involved with any scandals, lawsuits, product recalls, or other negative press. Positive and negative news can help us evaluate if working with this company is a good fit for us. Being aware of negative press can also prepare us to communicate tactfully about any past or current issues—after that first email. 

Industry Research

Finally, we have industry research. All companies operate within an industry, or a field of expertise. Even the most niche companies operate in intersections of or gaps between larger industries. For example, a company selling custom handbags made from used Japanese kimono operates within both the fashion industry and the industry of selling Japanese culture, i.e. tourism. 

Taking the time to understand the company’s positioning within several industries will demonstrate specific interest in the company’s business. Crafting an email that demonstrates even a slight level of industry-level awareness can convey maturity and professionalism

To sum things up, it’s recommended that as job seekers we conduct a bit of research in all three areas. Doing so informs our decision-making process and strengthens our ability to craft an original networking email that shows a professional sensibility. This can make a positive first impression, and first impressions are crucial for successful networking.

Know Your Goals

Before we craft our introductory message, there is still work to be done on our side. This time, though, we turn our attention back onto ourselves. Why? Because now, it is important to understand clearly what it is that we want from networking and from this particular company. We need to ask ourselves:

  • What is my goal for reaching out? A salaried job? A new collaboration? Access to potential clients?
  • What kind of outcome do I want? An opportunity to sit for an interview? An invitation to present to company employees or leadership?

To understand what we want, we would do well to organize our mind. Find a quiet place where you feel comfortable and will not be disturbed. Treat this time like a meditation, or like an interview with yourself—we want to be focused, open-minded, and ready to listen. What comes to our attention from within us will serve us well as a guide towards seeking what is most in alignment with our needs and ambitions. Have a pen and paper nearby, ready to take down any thoughts or feelings that come. 

Write Clearly But Not Too Clearly

Once we have a clear idea of our ideal outcome, now comes the part that is tricky—and exciting. In our first email, we do want to state what we want clearly. ※ The person receiving the email needs to understand what is being asked so that they can respond in an appropriate way. However, we also want to avoid being too direct, which not only risks sounding forceful and demanding, but also risks putting us in a box and limiting the kind of response that the recipient will think to give us. 

We can better understand both risks and the need for indirectness with an example. Let’s say that we want to work at the American branch of a Japanese company. We did all the research and feel confident that being an employee for this company is the best choice for us. Great! We start writing that email and our first few sentences include this one: 

“Please consider hiring me for the communications manager of the American branch of the East Japan company. Doomo arigatou gozaimasshita.” 

Generally speaking, there is nothing wrong with this line. The tone is clear and professional—and we even included some Japanese vocabulary (in Latin letters, or romaji). ※ Pretty good, right?

Maybe. But remember how we want to avoid coming off as forceful or demanding? Here is where the subtlety of language matters: the word “please” usually makes a request more polite in everyday English, right? Right. Adding “please” does not, however, change the fact that the verb (“consider”) is actually used here in the imperative tense. “Imperative” means “absolutely necessary or required”. Basically, “Please consider” still comes with a slight tone of demanding something from our reader.  

Of course, that is an exaggerated interpretation of “please”—making requests is an unavoidable part of life and using “please” is definitely a good practice. Still, when communicating between English and Japanese it is the awareness of this subtlety that we want to cultivate. Nuances of language can become more pronounced when working in a multilingual space, so cultivating sensitivity is important. (If you feel like avoiding some rookie moves when communicating between English and Japanese, then it might be good to check out the next two posts in this series… Networking 104 is here, and Networking 105 is coming soon!))

“Please consider hiring me” is clear phrasing, but there is a downside. While cueing the reader to respond (good!), by design this request limits the type of response that the reader might think to make. What if the reader was interested in your message, but there are actually no positions available right now? Or, maybe they were impressed by your knowledge of current company endeavors and wanted to send you more details, but because they could not reply with an affirmative “Yes we can hire you” they stopped themselves short? 

Whether sending networking emails, seeking employment, or building relationships with business owners and managers, we want to phrase our sentences such that they give the reader the possibility of replying in a wide range of positive ways. Doing this is actually quite simple, and here are two strategies to add to our tool belt: they are the invitation and the inquiry

Strategy 1: Inviting Your Reader

Human beings have more in common than is often believed. One of those common traits is that we usually love to be invited to things. Special events, free lunches, pre-opening night dress rehearsals at the New National Theater in Tokyo (just in case anyone is feeling generous, I accept!). 

Even the feeling that someone took the time to extend an invitation to us can be enough to bring a smile back to any stiff, forced-back-into-the-office scowl. We don’t even have to offer anything—the language of invitation can be enough to sweeten the tone of our networking emails. Here are some examples:

I invite you to review the attached cover letter at your convenience.”

I invite any comments on the above and sincerely look forward to reading your thoughts.”

“Receiving your reply will be most welcome.”

Statements such as this help to create a polite and cordial mood, and can feel softer than a “please” request. A note of caution, however: the verb “to invite” can sometimes create an overly formal and/or subtly condescending tone—think sarcasm—depending on what action is attached to it. Sentences like 

“I invite you to send my message to the hiring manager.”

“I welcome your consideration for the job.” 

risk creating a higher-than-thou tone that puts our own status or importance above that of the reader. ※ Instead of conveying graciousness, the last two examples sound like the reader should be glad to have the chance to do us a favor. Yikes. 

To avoid that, here is a tip: the mood of invitation should attach to an action that does not explicitly benefit ourselves and instead offers something of interest to the reader, such as a chance to share their own opinion.

Strategy 2: Asking The Reader For Help

Most human beings also share an innate desire to help others. Phrasing our emails in a way that allows the reader to genuinely offer assistance can be an effective networking strategy. Let’s see some examples:

“I would be so grateful to participate in the OO work being done through your office, but am not sure where to start. Is it possible to receive advice about that?

“I looked into the OO project and I am really impressed with your company’s work on it. Is it possible to know in advance about upcoming events or webinars about the project’s next stages? I would love to attend.”

“The latest report on OO is very insightful. But, I did not fully understand one of the points made in the report. Is it alright if I send a few questions? Your input would be so helpful for me.”

These examples invite the reader to provide assistance in ways that are within their capacity as a representative, employee, or leader within the company. 

Here, too, let’s be prudent about our requests. We should avoid requests that might place an undue burden on one or more employees within the company, e.g. anything that makes them need to request permission, schedule availability, or do extra administrative work. 

For our request, using polite language is crucial. Choosing words like “receive” (not “get”) and “could be” (not “can”) and indirect language like “I wonder if” (not “I want”; not “please do this”) is recommended. Since this is our very first email to the company or individual, we definitely want to use language that creates a tone that is respectful and approachable. Perhaps you would agree?

Pro-tip: Remember That “No” Does Not Mean “Never”

Using suitable language and tone in our networking emails can increase the chances of successfully beginning a new professional connection. It can be a tricky game regardless of our level of English (or Japanese). Remember to enjoy the process of creating your own powerful and unique message.

Still, even the finest email craftsmanship will occasionally be met with a reply that effectively means “no”. It happens to everyone, so let’s not get discouraged. Not every door is opened at the same time, and few doors that are worth walking though are open 24/7. 

Let’s just remember that a “no” today does not mean that it will be a “no” tomorrow. Future opportunities will arise for which we can put all our research, writing, and bravery to good use. To increase those odds, we recommend opting to receive the company newsletter and stay up-to-date with their latest projects.

We also recommend engaging with the company via social media and LinkedIn. Just be smart about it: too much of anything does eventually become distasteful. Too many follow-up emails (=impatient) and too much social media engagement (=attention-seeking) can have the opposite effect on our goals. Let’s always aim to keep any networking activity moderate and, above all, authentic.

Wrap-up and Next

In this article, we looked at a few ways to prepare ourselves for writing a professional networking email. We saw how doing thoughtful research, clarifying our ideal outcome, and using language of invitation and inquiry to craft our message can serve our goals. Quality preparation sets us up for a positive return, be it an encouraging reply, an invitation to an upcoming company event, or even a chance to apply for a coveted position. 

Also, we want to encourage you, dear reader, that our networking advice can be applied to many kinds of professionals, regardless of their industry or nationality. Whether they are Japanese working in the car industry, or American working in food products and services, the tips we shared here can help us make a good first impression.

In the next blog post of the Ikigai Connections Networking series (Networking 104!), we will introduce some key strategies for actually writing our email, as well as tips to help us avoid totally rookie mistakes. Thanks again for reading, and see you there. ☆

Connect with Rossi on LinkedIn. For inquiries related to editing, proofreading, and even general conversations about life in Japan, please email: hellorossiwalter@gmail.com.

Be sure to check out the other articles in this networking series: Networking 101, Networking 102, Networking 104, and Networking in Japan: How to Find a Job in Japan as an LGBTQIA+ Person

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