If I ever send you an email asking for career advice, know that it took hours of deleting and rewriting and agonizing over whether to address the letter with “Dear” or “Hi.” Or maybe “Hello”? Or maybe I shouldn’t send it at all?
Because the fact is that networking is awkward, and no one likes to feel like a mooch on someone else’s time and resources.
At the same time, if you’re thinking about your next career move — whether it’s taking on a new role within your current company, switching to another industry, or starting your own business — you’ll need the help of people who’ve already achieved what you hope to achieve.
An elegant solution to this problem can be found in “Pivot,” a new book by career coach and former Googler Jenny Blake. Blake guides readers through the process of making a change in their career, and she devotes a chunk of the book to less-gross alternatives to networking.
Among them is career “drafting,” or asking someone you admire if you can help with any work overflow they don’t have the resources to handle.
Blake says she used this strategy when she was building her speaking business, after she published her first book, “Life After College,” and left Google. Here’s a snippet from the book:
“I told other speakers in my career niche that I loved working with organisations and speaking at conferences, and was happy to travel to do so. Several speakers were glad to refer me for gigs that did not appeal to them, or that they did not have time to take on.”
When she visited the Business Insider office in September, Blake explained how anyone can use this technique:
“If you find people who are one or two steps ahead in your industry and let them know that you’re really interested in their line of work, [you can] say, ‘Hey, if you have any overflow that you can’t handle, I would be happy to take it.'”
One caveat, of course: You have to be prepared to do the work well. “That assumes that you also have built up some skills in this area and would be ready to handle that overflow from them,” Blake said.
They might decline your request — but then you’re in the same place you were when you started out.
To be sure, this networking strategy requires a bit more time and energy than inviting a successful person to coffee and then writing a note thanking them for their time. But it’s also potentially more beneficial to you than a coffee meeting because you get on-the-ground experience.
And if you’re serious about your next career move, you’ll want all the experience you can get.
Ultimately, drafting helps alleviate that icky feeling you get when you write that “Free for coffee?” email, because you’re legitimately helping the other person.
Whether you’re drafting or using another networking strategy, Blake said you should always “look for ways that you can add mutual value.”