Over the past month I’ve been writing about how to build and maintain your professional network. With constantly meeting new people and growing your professional network is crucial to uncovering job leads and building a successful and lasting career. But today I’d like to talk to you about another really important piece of networking that is, in most cases, often neglected: Network Maintenance. With anything you build you have to maintain it. The same goes with maintaining your connections once you have them. You can’t build up a new network every time you look for a job or have a career need; think of your longer-term connections as a bench of teammates that, as long as you stay connected, will be your supporters for years to come.
If your network is anything like mine it’s made up of old classmates, current and previous coworkers, and close friends. As we get older and move further in our careers we can lose touch with a lot of those connections. A question you might ask yourself is “How do I reach out to that someone I haven’t spoken with in a long time?” Well I’ll admit that it might feel awkward to send an email, friend request, or a request for to connect on LinkedIn to a former colleague, classmate or client, straight out of the blue. I think you should do it anyway. Here are two reasons why: First, social media is still a new enough communication channel that people aren’t shocked to be contacted by an old friend who has come across their profile. Second, it’s so important to your job search and career prospects to maintain a strong network that is worth that potential awkwardness. With that being said, you can lessen the potential weirdness of the situation by making that email or request a “Let’s get back in touch” message.
When you write that message there are a few things you should keep in mind. When I write that email I’ll explain how I “discovered” or even “rediscovered” them. I make sure I have something relevant to talk about. I usually do this by either checking out a few of their social network pages or I’ll even give them a quick Google search to find some recent information (this will show them that you have a genuine interest in them and that you can me a mutually beneficial network connection). And finally I’ll close the message by telling them a bit about what I’m doing and then I’ll suggest a follow-up conversation so that I can keep in touch with them. The follow-up conversation is where you can talk about your job search and offer up yourself to help you contact with any needs they might have. Remember, this first message is to be a friendly networking outreach, it is not the time to ask for a job. Reaching out to someone you haven’t spoken with in years and asking them for work can potentially hurt your chances at a solid connection.
Well lets say that you have already reached out and you’ve reconnected and things went really well. But now what? The real question is how do you keep in touch with someone when you don’t have an immediate need or any thing to share with them? The best advice I can give is to give them something. And I don’t mean anything physical. I’m speaking more on the lines of saying “Happy Birthday” and or, congrats on the new job or promotion. You can even comment on a discussion post they may have started or commented on, or even status updates on any of their social network sites. LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman calls this doing “small goods,” and it’s one of the best uses of the site.
LinkedIn provides some great ways to spark this type of outreach. You can use the LinkedIn news feed on LinkedIn.com. There, you can see a stream of what your LinkedIn connections are sharing in their updates and find reasons to reach out. If you like an article from someones posts, they’ll get a notification which will then keep you on that person’s radar screen. If and when something pops up you can use can use their status updates as a reason to reach out with a message. Remember, try to offer something of value to your contact. This is also important for you. Make sure you are posting discussions, status updates, and sharing articles to give your connections a chance to keep in touch with you as well. If you get a response be sure to reply to anyone and everyone who made the effort to reach out. Showing your gratitude strengthens and maintains your relationships.