Knowing how to effectively network is a super-skill that can help you achieve career success: In fact, 70 percent of people get hired at companies where they already have a connection. While it’s exciting to hit up the cool conference on your bucket list or finally find the courage to cold-email your dream mentor, it can also be majorly nerve-wracking to approach a person in your industry you idolize. LinkedIn career expert Blair Decembrele gave us some tips for approaching someone you admire without chickening out. From little things like planning your conversation-starters ahead of time to broader goals such as polishing your personal pitch, her advice will boost your confidence so you can totally rock it.

A woman smiles during a meeting

1. Do your homework. Decembrele tells us that when it comes to approaching someone you admire, you should brush up on their background. Social sites and professional platforms like LinkedIn are an awesome way to inform yourself, and what you find should help you form answers to key questions that’ll help you get into the right mindset. “Why do you want to meet or connect with this person?” Decembrele asks. “Is it to learn about a company for particular job opportunities? Are you looking for advice?” She says you should also consider how a professional relationship can be mutually beneficial. “Have specific goals in mind, so you can make the most out of a conversation once you connect.” When it comes to LinkedIn specifically, Decembrele shares that finding something you have in common can be a big help. “See if you can find at least one mutual interest or experience to bond over,” she wisely advises. “Maybe you share an alma mater, saw them speak recently, or have volunteered for the same organization. Whatever the case, highlighting something you share can make your message more sincere.”

2. Polish your pitch. “Take time to develop a compelling, 30-second description of yourself, your experience, and your goals,” Decembrele says. She says that having an elevator pitch will keep you from stumbling and help you easily explain who you are and what you do. “Before you connect with the person you admire, plan out what you want to say. A mentor or professional contact might be able to help you practice your delivery to give you even more confidence in your pitch.” Need a conversation starter before you feel confidently launching into your personal pitch? Decembrele suggests that mutual connections or a career milestone (such as a job change) will do the trick to break the ice.

A woman works on a laptop

3. Stay in the know. Doing your homework on someone you admire is a solid start, but Decembrele reminds us to keep up even after connecting. “Stay up to speed on industry trends,” she instructs. “Follow trending topics and the latest headlines, and know about developing news and perspective in your field.” Decembrele notes that being able to speak to recent industry trends and forward-thinking ideas will help you feel confident communicating with someone you admire, while demonstrating your value as a professional. Luckily, many events will share speaker and attendee lists in advance, which you can use as a cheat sheet for anyone you may need to update yourself about. Decembrele proposes having an action plan before you go, which can include sending an InMail message to someone you’d like to talk with during an in-person event. “Come up with conversation starters that will help you with the topic you’re hoping to cover, be it a new job or expanding your client base,” she urges. “Make sure your openers give the other person a chance to talk about themselves too; this will help you figure out how to steer the conversation.”

4. Focus on follow-up. Confidently connecting with someone you admire is awesome, but you should always follow up to nurture the relationship — be it with a handwritten note, email, or LinkedIn request. “Follow up within 24 hours, and be sure to thank your contact for taking time to chat with you — you never know what doors a new connection might open,” Decembrele encourages. We love that the LinkedIn mobile app makes this extra easy, as you can fire off a connection request in real time. Boom.

Have you pushed fears aside to connect with a professional you admire? Tell us how you did it on Twitter @BritandCo!

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