One option is to network online by sending emails or LinkedIn messages to successful professionals in your industry whom you haven't actually met. In other words, you can "cold-call" professionals online.
It's not easy though—who has time to answer unsolicited emails from people they don't know? If you're skillful in your efforts, however, you can be successful in growing your network. To maximize your chances of actually networking with someone you don't know, you have to make sure the message is succinct, genuine, and something they can respond to easily.
These are common reasons why your online networking efforts are going to waste:
1. You're asking too many questions in your message. Be respectful of your recipient's time. There's a reason why LinkedIn's message cuts you off after 150 characters in the subject line and about 7,000 characters in the message. A list of questions can be extremely off-putting. Keep it succinct to just your most important, burning question. After they respond, you can follow-up with more questions or ask to set up a quick informational interview via email or phone.
2. You aren't using the "introduce" feature on LinkedIn. If you've tapped out your first-degree connection LinkedIn network, you can always take advantage of the "introduction" feature to tap into second-or third-degree connections. Having someone vouch for you is a great way of increasing your chances of landing a new connection.
Browse professionals in your industry and look for folks who share a connection with you. Then, you can request an introduction through one of your connections.
3. You're only reaching to far-fetched professionals. If you're an entry-level or mid-level professional, your cold networking list should be a mix of folks who are both high- and mid-level. If you only send out emails to VPs of Fortune 500 companies, for instance, you aren't really giving yourself a fair chance.
While it's great to reach out to people you admire most, there's a lot of benefit that can come from connecting with mid-level professionals, too. And you're way more likely to get a response from them.
4. You're point blank asking for a job. Networking isn't about immediate results. It's about building mutually beneficial relationships. Avoid getting carried away and asking about the job prospects at a particular company. Keep it more general and discuss your overall career—and look for ways to add value for your desired connection.
5. You're using a generic template. According to her recent article in the New York Times, Courtney Baxter, a recent graduate from Denison University with a bachelor's degree in gender studies, landed a dream job by "writing an e-mail version of one of those half-court basketball shots."
When Baxter sent a quick email asking for career advice from one of her idols, Courtney E. Martin, author of Do it Anyway: The New Generation of Activists, she never thought Martin would actually respond. Her message to Martin, however, was not only in line with some of the points above, it was also genuine:
"I can only imagine how busy you are and so I know this may be a big request, but if you could spare some time for coffee and some advice, I can't tell you what it would mean to me. Without sounding overly adoring, I just hope that in 10 years I'll have accomplished anything close to what you have, and the work that I've seen you create and been able to make happen for yourself (and others) has given me a glimpse of hope that I will be O.K. and I can have the big dreams that I do."
Through her networking efforts, Baxter is now a full-time assistant at OpEd Project, a nonprofit organization.
Ritika Trikha is a writer for CareerBliss, an online career community dedicated to helping people find happiness in the workplace. Check out CareerBliss for millions of job listings, company reviews, salary information, and a free career happiness assessment.