Write a letter to someone you admire, explaining what you admire about them and why. Also focuses on skills of sentence construction.
We all have professional idols we’d like to meet. Sometimes we might luck into getting to say hello at a conference or having a mutual friend who can introduce us. But often, despite our suspicions that we have a lot in common with and could even be friends with our heroes, they remain out of reach.
I’ve been on both sides of the equation. Readers have emailed me about wanting to connect, and I’ve done my share of approaching people I admire without seeming like a groupie or a stalker. I’ve found four strategies to be effective in connecting with high-profile strangers, even without the benefit of a warm introduction.
Establish your credibility. When you send a networking request, it’s important to immediately set yourself apart as someone worth knowing. For instance, when I recently wrote to a prominent film director, I started the note by citing our shared alumni affiliation and — because I wanted to inquire about adapting one of his films into a musical — mentioning the prominent shows that had been created by graduates of the musical theater workshop I’m in. He responded, expressed interest in talking further, and noted that a composer friend had told him that “many exciting works have come out of this program.” By establishing your credibility up front, you make it clear that the interaction will be fruitful.
Offer value. To break through your idol’s skepticism (since the person likely gets a lot of random requests), you need to demonstrate that you understand how you can help them. That was certainly the case with one message I received the week before I was scheduled to speak in Denmark. “Copenhagen is known for being a city full of great clothing and interior design and decorations,” my correspondent wrote. “I am a fashion designer with a master’s degree in marketing and international business, and I have over 14 years’ experience working as a stylist.”
She went on to offer to take me on a shopping tour of Copenhagen at no charge, noting that “I have been watching your videos on your website, and I like your clothing style and I am very quick to find clothes you might like.” If I were speaking in the United States, the offer wouldn’t have been quite as enticing (“I can show you the best malls in Dallas!”). But she correctly surmised that the opportunity to tour the city with a local and shop for gifts (the holidays were approaching) was compelling. We ended up spending more than half a day together, and we’re still in touch. By identifying areas where your skills overlap with the other person’s needs, you can go well beyond the typical (and boring) “Let’s meet for coffee” message and develop more meaningful connections.
Highlight what makes you interesting. (Even if it’s not directly relevant to your idol’s work.) Successful people like connecting with other interesting people because it feels like fun, not work. And yet so often they’re approached by people taking the role of supplicants, who only want to ask questions and glean wisdom. It’s flattering at first, but with enough volume, it can become exhausting. So one secret is to position yourself as a peer who is notable in your own right.
One woman who cold emailed me, and who has since become a friend, closed her note to me with the following: “A bit about me: I talk about [subject matter] on national public radio, and starting this fall will be a co-star on [national TV show]… I recently quit a stupid-stressful desk job that was burning me out big time and am returning to my writing roots. I also play in a New Orleans-style brass band that does free public parades every week and whose guiding principle is to have fun and not worry about wrong notes.”
Her expertise was very different from my own, but she sounded fascinating, so I wrote back immediately. If you can identify unusual aspects of your identity — whether you’ve served as a fighter jet pilot or have visited 100 countries or are an Irish step dancing champion — those colorful details will make you memorable and help ensure that your target will want to connect.
Make it clear that you have no expectations. High-profile people get bombarded with requests. For example, Tim Ferriss’s email newsletters contain a caveat that he can’t respond personally to messages because he receives 1,000+ per day. Even if your “pitch” is well crafted, your idols might be in a busy period and simply don’t have time to connect. You get extra points, then, for empathizing with this situation and addressing it up front.
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” my New Orleans friend wrote me, “and absolutely no expectations because I don’t roll like that. But I was compelled to reach out to you.” Too many strangers reach out with extraordinary levels of entitlement, asking for free coaching, or a significant introduction, or a review and critique of their work. When you, in contrast, show an awareness of your hero’s circumstances, explaining that you don’t want to take up too much time in their schedule, you set yourself apart in a positive way.
One of the joys of the modern era is that, thanks to the internet, people we admire from afar are tantalizingly within reach — just a tweet or an email away. Many people blow that opportunity by failing to establish their credibility (“Who is this person?”) or going directly to an ask without demonstrating any reason their target would want to connect. By using these strategies, you’ll have the opportunity to stand out and build better connections with people you’ll be proud to have in your network.
Looking to connect with people you admire online and build successful Messaging someone to say you're a fan of their work might get you to the door.
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I am an upcoming video director and have a lot of admiration for one of the renowned video directors in the country. We have never met, but engage through WhatsApp, though infrequently and purely on matters work. How do I approach him and request him to be my mentor?
There is no doubt that we can learn from those who are more experienced than us. Indeed, many stories we hear of successful careers refer back to a turning point, where a more experienced professional offered some guidance, posed a challenge or shared a perspective that made an impact. Whereas in many cases mentors are people we know quite well, could be a senior colleague or a more experienced friend or relative, the most important criteria to look out for is a personal connection, this way, it is possible to build good rapport and trust. The challenge however remains how to identify and approach the person you look up to and start that career-changing conversation. Luckily for you, you already have someone in mind owing to their outstanding work. Your only obstacle remains how to approach someone you have never met and request them to mentor you.
The best way to approach him is to book an appointment with him. You can do this over email or a phone call. Avoid a text or WhatsApp message as these are rather informal and unprofessional when you are strangers, but when contact is made and appointment is acknowledged, this can become a suitable way to communicate going forward. When you make initial contact, explain that you are a young upcoming video editor and a great admirer of his work, and you would be honoured if he could allow you 20 minutes of his time to bounce off some work-related ideas.
When the meeting is granted, be on time, introduce yourself, cite some of the work you have done. If nothing stands out at this point, talk about your aspirations, your dreams, goals and the opportunities you see in the profession. Tell him what you most admire about his work, perhaps a technique that distinguishes him from others. Then be very specific on the areas you wish to learn more from him. Prepare some questions that would make good use of the time just in case he is quickly agreeable and you have sometime left. Be flexible if he suggests hours that may be outside your usual work plan, such as an early morning meeting or evening or weekend. It is in your best interest to fit within his time schedule, but do voice an opinion if you feel the time suggested may not be best suited for a productive discussion. Remember, a mentor’s job is not to tell you what to do, but to provide a perspective that guides you to make the right decision. Make the best use of the opportunity when granted.
Mwikali Muthiani, Managing Partner, MillennialHR
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The internet provides great opportunities for you to expand your network with new professional contacts. LinkedIn in particular is a great platform for connecting with people you admire within your industry. It allows you to build a network without actually having to attend networking events.
Since it is professionally oriented social network, connecting with people you admire becomes much easier.
When you send a connection request, they already know that you want to connect professionally. They know you are not going to ask them out on a date or confess your undying love for them.
Therefore, you should not hesitate to reach out if you find a person that you admire and would be interested in connecting with. Connecting with such a person can help you build relationships that might lead to great opportunities for you.
That being said, you should keep in mind that there is a right way of reaching out to people you admire on LinkedIn. While LinkedIn is full of amazing people who are often willing to share their insights and advice, their willingness to connect will depend on how you ask.
When you find someone you admire on LinkedIn, don’t instinctively hit the “Connect” button or send a quick “I’d love to connect with you” message in a bid to start a conversation. This won’t get you anywhere. The person does not know you, doesn’t know what you do and has no idea why you want to connect with them, so why should they accept your request?
They will see your request as a generic request sent to a dozen other people, and you can already bet they will ignore it.
If you want to people you admire to respond to your connection requests, you need to refine your approach to sending out the requests.
Below are some things you should take into consideration if you want to successfully connect with people you admire on LinkedIn.
When you send someone a connection request, one of the first things they will probably do is to check out your profile. They want to know exactly who you are and what you do. What will they see when they visit your profile? Does it showcase you as a professional that the other person would be interested in connecting with, or does it turn them off?
Despite the popular saying that a book should not be judged by its cover, people will always judge. In this case, your profile is your cover, and you want to be sure that it shows the best things about you.
Therefore, before you even think about sending a connection request, make sure that your LinkedIn profile is in tip-top shape.
You should focus on the following aspects of your profile:
Once your LinkedIn profile is all tuned up, it’s now time to think about the person you want to reach out to.
Since they are a person you admire, you probably know something about them or their work. You might have seen their interviews or read articles about them.
Before you reach out, do some further research and uncover everything you can about them (professional information. Don’t start digging up their personal life). You can find lots of information about a person by reviewing their LinkedIn profile and searching them online.
Researching about the person you want to reach out to serves two purposes. First, it allows you to approach them from an informed position and allows you to come up with intelligent questions and input to pose to them.
For instance, if you ask the person about something they have spoken about a dozen times in various blogs, magazines and TV interviews, they won’t be impressed, and are less likely to believe that your admiration is genuine.
How do you claim to greatly admire them when you haven’t taken the time to read or watch them give their opinions on the subject matter you are curious about?
Secondly, researching about them allows you to find out any common ground between you and them. Pointing out something you have in common with a person disarms them, piques their interest and increases their chance of replying to you.
Since you are reaching out to them via LinkedIn, which is a professionally oriented social network, the common ground should be related job-related. There are various things that you can use to highlight the common ground between you and them.
These include having a similar educational background, having attended the same college, having ever worked at the same company, using a similar tool in your line of work, having similar interests, and so on.
If you share a mutual friend, you can point it out to them. Similarly, if you recently attended the same event or saw them publicly share their thoughts on something, you can use it to create some rapport.
For instance, you could say, “I saw your interview with The Times and would love to hear your thoughts about XYZ.”
Your questions should obviously be related to whatever they discussed in the interview.
Having done your homework about your target, you can now start thinking about how to reach out to them. A quick warning here. Never use the default “I’d like to add you to my professional network” that is automatically provided by LinkedIn.
This won’t get you any results.
You might as well click the “connect” button without writing anything. If you want people to respond to your connection requests, you need to personalize your connection requests, else you will be treated as a spammer. The same rules that apply when networking in real life should also apply on LinkedIn.
Picture yourself at a real life networking event. Would you walk up to someone, hold out your hand and say
“Hello! I would like to add you to my professional network.”
What would be reaction if someone did that to you? You would definitely think that they are crazy. Why then would you think this works on LinkedIn?
If you want to network with someone in real life, you normally walk to them, introduce yourself, find something common to talk about and explain why you are interested in knowing them. The same applies when networking on LinkedIn.
You should compose a message explaining who you are and why you are interested in connecting with them. More specifically, some of the elements you should include in your message include:
Just like you would not walk to someone in a real life networking event and start talking to them without telling them who you are, you should not start your LinkedIn conversation without introducing yourself.
Tell the person you are reaching out to who you are and give them some background about you. This does not have to be overly complicated. You can simply say:
“Hello! I’m Kev, and I’m a network engineer at Google”
You did not just wake up and decide to reach out to this person. Since you admire them, there is a reason behind your admiration. Perhaps you love the kind of success they have achieved in their field and you would love to follow in their footsteps. This is the point where you should let them know what you admire about them and why it inspired you to want to reach out to them.
You can also use this as an opportunity to throw in some flattery. Everybody loves some flattery. However, your flattery should be subtle.
Heaping lots of praise on your target will make you come across as not being genuine. You can express your admiration and your reason for reaching out by saying something like:
“I admire the fact you managed to build your blog from scratch to a successful blog that attracts ten million visitors each month. I’d love to learn the strategies you used to attract your first 1000 visitors.”
When reaching out to someone you admire, you are not doing it just for the sake of talking to this person. There is something you want to accomplish from the interaction.
Are you looking to stay connected? Are you looking for an opportunity to discuss something over the phone? Do you want a sit-down with the person over a cup of coffee? Do you want them to review your work? Your message should conclude with you expressing what exactly you want from the interaction.
This ensures that there is no confusion about the interaction moving forward and increases your chances of getting what you want. If you want to further contact with the person, do not forget to share some basic contact information that they can use to get in touch with you.
Below is an example of how you can express what you want out of the interaction.
“I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to discuss this with you over the phone. You can reach me on 1-541-754-3010 or [email protected] “
During the research phase, you should have identified specific questions that you want the person to help you answer. One common mistake I have observed with most people is that they ask questions that are way too broad.
“How do I build a successful blog?” “How do I create great content for my website?” “I’m interested in becoming a life coach. How do I break into the industry?”
Such questions are too general. No one can helpfully answer such questions in a few paragraphs or a phone call. There are hundreds of approaches to building a successful blog. Ditto for creating great content and becoming a life coach.
By asking such general questions, you are making it hard to the person to help you, and they will be more inclined to ignore your message.
If you want someone to get back to you with helpful advice, you should ask specific questions. In order to do this, you need to have done some prior research about the subject and identified areas that might be challenging to you.
It shows that you are not expecting the person to spoon feed you or to provide you with a magic bullet that will immediately transform your career. Specific questions also make it easier for the person to give useful answers that you can actually put in action.
Using the above examples, let’s look at how you can ask more specific questions. Instead of asking how you can build a successful blog, you could ask something like,
“How can I get my first 1000 visitors?” or “What’s the best way to monetize my blog?”
Rather than asking how you can create great content, you could ask something like,
“What’s the best way to incorporate stories in my posts?” or “how do I come up with great headlines for my blog posts?”
Instead of asking how to become a life coach, you could ask something like
“What challenges did you face when starting out as a career coach?” or “what skill has been most important in your career as a life coach?”
These questions are more direct and allow the person to give you answers that you can put into action.
Most people reaching out to people they admire on LinkedIn with very high expectations. They reach out with the hope that the person will help them land their dream job or recommend them to someone who will give them a job.
These expectations are way too high.
Someone who has had their first interaction with you on an online platform is unlikely to do you such a huge favor. If you want to request for such favors, you should first take the time to cultivate a good relationship with the person.
As you build a rapport, you will get to a point where you can now ask them to recommend you for a job or introduce you to one of their contacts.
With this in mind, never ask for such favors in your first message. You will just be putting the person in a tight spot and they will probably end up ignoring your message.
Below is an actual message I used to reach out to a top blockchain programmer I wanted to connect with and learn from me.
He replied to my message and we have had a great professional relationship for several months now.
My name is Joe, and I’m a fellow blockchain programmer. We have never met but I am a huge fan of your blog. I particularly loved your last post about how to implement on top of a blockchain. I was looking for people who are well experienced with Solidity and your name came up. I am trying to learn this language and was hoping to hear your thoughts on the usefulness of Solidity and the challenges I might come across when learning the language.
Would you be available for a 10-15 minute phone call to discuss this? You can reach me on 1-541-754-3010 or [email protected]
Looking forward to hearing from you.
This message worked because it follows the strategy highlighted above. I started by introducing myself and giving a short background about myself with “I’m a fellow blockchain programmer”.
This statement also established common ground between us by pointing out that we are both blockchain programmers. By mentioning how much of a fan of his blog I am, I showed my admiration for him. I also pointed out my reason for reaching out by highlighting that his name came up when researching about people with experience in the Solidity programming language, which I was trying to learn.
By mentioning that his name came up when searching for experienced Solidity programmers, I was also giving him some subtle flattery.
The fact that I was interested in a programming language he uses created another common ground between us. The questions I wanted him to answer were quite specific.
What’s the usefulness of Solidity?
What challenges should I expect?
Finally, I concluded by expressing what I expected from the interaction, which was a 10 -15 minute phone call with him, which he gladly granted me. I also shared my contact information so he could easily reach me.
When reaching out to someone who does not know you on LinkedIn, you should also be considerate and respectful. Be considerate of their time and keep your message short and sweet.
No one wants to read ten paragraphs of text from someone they don’t know. In addition, LinkedIn also limit the number of characters on your invitation message, so you need to keep it succinct.
You should also be respectful and take the time to cultivate a relationship the same way you would in real life. Take the time to build a rapport, learn about the person and generally create some friendship before asking for favors. Finally, don’t make the interaction all about yourself and what you can get from it.
Find something valuable you can offer to the other person as well.
LinkedIn is a great social network for building your network and reaching out to people you admire within your industry or line of work. However, there is an art to approaching people who don’t know you on LinkedIn.
Do it the wrong way and you will be basically sending your connection requests into a black hole. You won’t get any responses. On the other hand, if you follow the right steps, you attempts will be successful and you will effortlessly build and grow your network.
Before reaching out to people you admire on LinkedIn, you need to make sure that your profile is complete and professional. You should then research your target and then craft a personalized message introducing yourself, stating why you are reaching out, and what you expect from the interaction.
Keep these tips on your mind and networking on LinkedIn will be a breeze for you.
Before you click the “Message” button and declare your admiration, make sure you check that person's profile to see if there are any specific requests about.