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Posted 3 Nov 2002

Career 2.0: Building Bridges Across Your Career

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How to successfully start a dialog with your professional peers


A "cold" contact is when a reptile food seller calls to sell you Iguana food, but doesn't even know if you own an Iguana. A "warm" contact is when a reptile food seller who owns an Iguana calls on the phone to sell you Iguana food because he read an article that you wrote in a recent "Reptile Weekly."

When the caller opens with the fact that they also own an Iguana, and were contacting you because they'd just read your article in "Reptile Weekly," you probably wouldn't be inclined to hang up on this person. You may have Iguana food stacked to the rafters, but knowing a shared interest exists, you'll probably talk to this stranger.

People respond to other people with shared interests. Few respond to e-mail or phone calls from people they don't know.

Starting a dialog

To successfully start a dialog with a professional peer you need a message that interests the other person enough that they will respond to you.

You, presumably, have a success record of good communications skills with people you already know. At some point in time, your friends or coworkers were new to you. You discovered ideas, interests, experiences -- friends in common, or goals you shared, and then built a friendship from these common threads. The same thing applies in building bridges with people who will be able to help you realize your career goals.

This article is intended to help you to understand the "table structure" necessary to build dialogs with new professional peers through "warm contacts" and "cold contacts."

In career terms, warm contacts are starting points that can include referrals from family and friends; internship and volunteer work references; current or former classmates; university alumni associations; current or former teachers; fellow SIG members; Industry-specific Associations and local chapters; user groups; current and former coworkers and managers. A cold contact is a person who doesn't already know you, with whom you have not (yet) found a common thread, and there is no direct referring source.

Codeproject authors and members fall into the warm contact category because we share a community and an interest in software development. A fellow alumnus of the university you graduated from is a warm contact, even if the only common bond with this person was from reading a conference speaker biography. You share a group affiliation and educational experience; and chances are, if you read their biography in a conference program, you also share an interest in the conference or speaker topic.

Researching your contact

Front-end research can make a huge difference between cold contacts and warm contacts. People are listed on the internet because they have a public interest or achievement, group or university membership; hobby; and other personal or professional reasons.

Once you have a contact name, using several search engines, identify additional common threads you share. Read papers, posts, work examples, biographies, or whatever you find for insights to their ideas, interests, experiences, or goals. There is a wealth of information available to you. Use it.

However, only use information that is publicly available, or that came through a direct referral from someone they know (and, ideally, whom they respect.) Privacy and business ethics are big concerns today.

Here are some other sources:

  • Shared acquaintance, personal or work experience, interest, group membership, or university affiliation
  • Industry visibility, or conference presenter
  • Contact wrote a white paper, article, posting, or knowledge-based article
  • She/he was quoted in industry article or on a portal
  • Participates in a newsgroup or other post

Making contact

Before making initial contact, ask yourself "Why this person?" and then tell them why up front, in a compelling and brief manner. Also consider what you want from this contact. You should have a reason, or a result that you want for contacting any industry peers. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Technical help or advice
  • Recognize their professional achievement or work
  • Feedback on a professional article, presentation, newsgroup post which they authored
  • To learn about an industry or company from an insider's perspective
  • To identify current or future job opportunities
  • To seek a Mentor

With initial contact we have begun to build a bridge. What other tools will help?

The main communication methods between technology professionals today are phone, e-mail, or a combination of both. E-mail is a good choice for complex subjects. It is also a good choice if you want to fine-tune your message ahead of time, if you're not a native speaker of the recipient's language, or if you're shy. E-mail is also easier for a recipient to respond to on the fly. Just be careful to word your subject line clearly, so that your e-mail is not mistaken for spam.

Whatever method you choose, no one maintains a 100% success rate. If you are too aggressive in your initial attempt, you may not have started a bridge, but you can definitely prevent one from being built any time in the future. Approach with caution and respect that the contact is going out of his or her way to provide you anything at all.

Limit yourself to 2 or 3 very polite contacts per person. Each attempt at contact should be no more frequent than once a week. If they don't reply to you within that 2-3 week time frame, you're probably not going to hear from them. Move on to the next person and don't take it personally. We all have lives, families, and work that we need to tend to.

As with programming languages, contacts have a structure:

  • Subject line or conversation opening line must catch their interest
  • Thank the person in advance for their time and their help
  • Sincerely compliment them on their work or item that caught your attention
  • In one or two short sentences, explain why you are specifically contacting them, including where and how you found this information
  • Ask for help, suggestions, or advice to help you get the results that you have previously identified
  • Thank them again for their time and their help

No one likes fake praise. Be genuine in your thanks, but not so overly thankful the person won't believe you. Instead, think of your email content as a written discussion with a new peer or manager. Be professional and friendly, but not overly familiar. They may fear you're a stalker.

Keeping notes

Track all of your contact efforts electronically or on paper. Long-term professional relationships are based on details. During an active job search you may communicate with more people than you can track in your head. Lost information can mean a lost opportunity. Be sure to include the source, follow-up, and a brief summary of any email or phone exchanges and any reminders you need for future contact. Piece by piece you will build a bridge that will last.

As promised, our next column will feature a case study, as we document step by step how we build a contact list for Marc's suggested companies.

In the mean time, why not email one or more Codeproject community members who either authored articles or posts which you found helpful, but whom you haven't had previous contact with, and start a new professional bridge?


This article has no explicit license attached to it but may contain usage terms in the article text or the download files themselves. If in doubt please contact the author via the discussion board below.

A list of licenses authors might use can be found here


About the Authors

United States United States
Catherine Björk is a eight year veteran of Microsoft’s recruiting organization. Currently she is a Lead Senior Account Manager Recruiter for Microsoft’s Sales, Marketing and Services Groups. Her first recruiting job at Microsoft was identifying and recruiting software engineers and program managers for Microsoft’s Games Group. In her limited free time, Catherine enjoys gourmet cooking,playing a competitive game of golf, skiing and cycling the Burke Gilman Trail which rings Lake Washington and parts of Seattle.And when time permits...traveling.

Andi Levin
United States United States
Andi Levin heads Western Technology Group. Since 1996 she successfully recruited technical employees for Compaq, EMC,, Fidelity Investments, IBM, Microsoft, Real Networks, TKS Industrial, and several dot coms. Most recently she worked with several of Microsoft’s .Net Server marketing teams to staff technical marketing and technical evangelist positions. Her passion is teaching job seekers methods and tools to use in their job search to create their competitive edge.

Julie King
United States United States
Julie King is the Editor for Career 2.0 and started in tech with an Oregon bank when the first ATM’s were being planned and installed (really!!!), has written since she was old enough to hold a crayon, edits paperback novels on the fly, and after a dot come-dot gone experience last year, uses Levin and Burk’s advice regularly.

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Comments and Discussions

GeneralNice Article! Pin
Nitron24-Jun-05 18:22
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GeneralRe: Nice Article! Pin
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Generalrecruitment questions Pin
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GeneralSome happenings Pin
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GeneralSalary Requirements Pin
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GeneralRe: Salary Requirements Pin
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GeneralRe: Salary Requirements Pin
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GeneralRe: Salary Requirements Pin
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GeneralGood content... Pin
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