Finally, thanks to a friend of a friend, you’re now connected with someone with influence at a company you want to work for. You send a quick thank you note, let them know they can contact you at any time if there is some way you can help them, and then you go on with your day. Six months later, the two of you haven’t interacted since that first introduction, so how do you reach back out to keep the relationship warm without coming off as a pest (or worse, creepy)?
Staying in touch with people in your network that you know well or have worked with directly in the past is easy. You have a history together, and your connection is rooted in more than a brief introduction, so if it’s been a year since you last caught up but an opportunity pops up that they may be able to help you with, contacting them isn’t a big deal. Unfortunately, showing up out of the blue asking a favor of someone who doesn’t know you well doesn’t tend to have the same outcome.
How can you turn an informal introduction to someone into a real connection that will help you professionally?
Why Stay In Touch?
The most obvious reason to keep your network warm is that it can help your career. It goes beyond just landing a job, too (though that is a perk to a strong network). Your network is likely full of people across industries, in various positions, and with a wide range of experience, and they all have the potential to help you further your career in different ways.
Let’s say you’re about to present to a new, big client, and they’re in an industry you aren’t entirely familiar with, but you have a connection to someone in that industry. If you keep that relationship warm, you can reach out to them as you prepare for the meeting and ask if they’d be willing to give you some tips or look over your presentation so that you come across as well-informed to the client. There’s also the possibility of mentor relationships with your network. Maybe there is someone who has excelled in your field and you’d love to learn from them. If the relationship is warm, then they’ll be much more likely to agree.
Similarly, someone with less experience with a good connection may feel comfortable asking you to serve as their mentor (which is always a good resume boost).
Finally, suppose you are hoping to make a big career pivot, either into a new industry or a completely new job (or both). In that case, there are probably people within your network who can introduce you to new connections who can help with this pivot, help you get a job, or serve as a reference as you make the transition.
Could these things still happen even if you don’t keep your network warm? Possibly. There are probably some good-hearted people that would still be willing to help you along in some way, but they’re likely not going to give you as much help as they might if you had checked in or interacted with them, in some way, in the recent past. Often, helping people professionally means sticking your neck out a little (or a lot, in some cases), and we’re all going to be more comfortable doing that for someone we feel like we know than someone who pops out of the woodwork when they need a favor.
Tips For Keeping In Touch
Most of us know the importance (and benefits) of keeping in touch with our network, but knowing how to do it is a different story. You have to find that balance of staying in touch without being annoying or coming off as desperate somehow. Depending on the contact, it can certainly be a fine line to walk, but it’s also probably not quite as difficult as you may think. Here are some ways to keep your network warm without being overbearing.
Interact with them online. It is probably the easiest way to keep a contact warm, but the connection needs to be active online to work. Assuming they are, react to their posts and leave comments now and then. If they share an article, comment on something that stood out to you, or if they get a new job don't just “like” the update. Tell them congratulations.
Create a reminder. For the people in your network who you aren’t able to engage with online through posts or for the ones who you want to make a good impression on, set a calendar reminder every six months or so to send them a quick note. It can be as simple as just saying hello, sharing an interesting article you found, or asking a question (even if you need their insight, it’s an excellent way to spark conversation).
Use birthdays and holidays to your advantage. If you know your contact’s birthday, that’s a great opportunity to drop them a note. You can do something similar for New Year’s Day or Thanksgiving, just reaching out to wish them a happy holiday. This strategy is particularly great because you have a legitimate reason to send them a direct message, and you aren’t asking anything of them.
Schedule a get-together. It can be a one-on-one cup of coffee or lunch with you and a contact you have in common. You can even do a quick 15-minute check-in via Zoom if it’s something you’re comfortable doing. Just find a way to get a little time with them face-to-face.
Introduce them to someone outside of their network. Not only will it keep your connection warm with your contact, but it will also help expand their network without having to do anything else in return.
Stay active online for yourself. When you create posts, share articles, and comment on other people’s content online, your activity often shows up in other people’s feeds, which will give them a little reminder that they’re connected to you. If they interact with you through those posts, then make sure you respond in some way, and if they don’t interact with you, use a different strategy to reach out to them at another time.
Truthfully, keeping your network warm can be somewhat awkward at times, but it’s still imperative to do. Yes, you may feel strange sending a “hello” note out of the blue to someone you admire but don’t talk to often, but think about how much that connection could help if a job opens up at their organization and you want to get your resume into a recruiter’s hands. A strong network can make a difference in your career growth, and if all it costs you is a little awkward embarrassment every six months or so, then it’s well worth it.
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