5 rules for making introductions that don't suck

It happens all too often: an email hits my inbox that says "Meet so-and-so!" and then the sender virtually signs off without explanation. Often, there is little to no context, and way too frequently, I haven't even been asked if I am open to the intro. I’ve had people thrown at me for reasons I can’t discern – but I’ve also had really respectful requests for connections.  

I get it: I really like to help people, and frequently blurt out “You should talk to so-and-so!” when I am meeting someone new and learning about their goals. I see connections everywhere I look and I love putting amazing people together. Consequently I offer to make (or more often, get asked to make) a lot of introductions. I see the value of making connections for people without a doubt–but being on the receiving end of a lot of sloppy intros has led me to set up some ground rules. 

1. The best professional introductions are double opt-in intros 

A double opt-in intro is when both people positively indicate that an intro would be welcome. If you ask me for an intro (or I offer one), I am going to ask them first if they’re okay with me making the intro. I will email someone one time, and if they don’t get back to me, I’ll assume they’re not interested (for any reason they chose) and I won’t email them a second time. My network is actually my personal one-to-one relationships with a lot of individual people and I respect each and every one of them. Related to this, if you ask me for an intro and I don’t get back to you, assume I have my reasons, too. Please don't keep asking.

2. Help me sell them on a benefit to meeting you 

This means 100% of the time, you’ve got to give me a benefit to them for taking the time to meet with you. Put another way: you benefiting greatly from the intro is not enough of a reason. Maybe you can be a resource to them, or maybe you’re looking for a great advisor who you’ll give equity to, or maybe you’ll quote them in a blog post or a book. If all you want is to pick someone’s brain or try to sell something to them, that’s the reason I deleted your message asking for an intro. {Side note: I can't believe how many people offer to pick my brain for the price of a cup of coffee. Don't do that; it's an offensive underestimation of anyone's time.}

3. Respond immediately and thoughtfully 

Once I make an intro, respond to them immediately (don’t ever expect them to reply first) and move me to BCC. This both lets me know that you’ve used good ettiquete and followed up quickly, and takes me out of the email chain. 

4. Let me know what happened 

Let me know if something comes out of the introduction. Did you get the job? Is there an interview I can read or a partnership I can hear about? Let me know what happened, so I can stay connected to my network. It’s a nice thing to do for me in exchange for asking me for the favor, and it will make me much more likely to get excited about making more intros for you. {Another side note: multiple times. I have provided job references for people and then not been told if they got the job or not. I will obviously never provide references for them again.}

5. My contact is my contact

No, I won’t give you someone’s email address or other non-public contact info. If they wanted it to be public, you would have found it by searching for it.

BONUS RULE (...but wait, there's more!) 

6. If I didn't agree to the intro, I'm not obligated by it

As a kindness to myself, I've also made a personal rule that if I find myself feeling guilty about not responding to an unsolicited email, I take a deep breath and let it go. Other people don't get to make time commitments on my behalf. 

As I said, I really do enjoy making connections; and I’m blessed to know so many amazing people. Intros should be valuable for all parties, though. Be as thoughtful about this as you would want someone else to be. By the way: If I sent this post to you, it’s because I want to be able to make an intro for you. If someone else sent it to you, it’s because they do, too. ;)

Happy connecting!

Further reading //

My dear friend J. Kelly Hoey literally wrote the book on how making genuine connections with people is the most powerful kind of networking – definitely check it out! Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships in a Hyper-Connected World

This is an edited and updated version of a post from 2014. Have any tips to share? Drop them in the comments below! I send out a monthly newsletter of original content; get on the list