While best practice is to continuously nurture and build your network, life often gets in the way and even the best-intentioned friends and colleagues sometimes lose touch. The moment this usually becomes painfully apparent is when you begin a job search and realize how small your inner circle has become.
Regardless of where you are in your career – in transition, happily employed, or back in school – it’s worth the time to cultivate your network. If you’ve let it lapse, it’ll take a little effort to rebuild, but it’s not a lost cause. Here are some best practices:
Do a network inventory. Identify contacts that have gone cold and dig up their most recent contact information. Organize contacts by company, specialty, location or other ways that are relevant to your job research or career. If appropriate, spend time learning about recent happenings in your contacts’ lives by using sites like Linked In or other social media. This will be useful when reaching out to re-connect.
Rebuild the relationship. The first contact should absolutely not be a request. A relationship is built on mutual benefit and generosity, so when possible, offer something helpful (e.g., email an interesting article or provide an introduction to one of your contacts). If this isn’t feasible, a friendly “Hello Bob, it’s been a while. How is your summer going?” will suffice. Open the door to a conversation and see where it leads. If you’re considerate in re-establishing the connection, chances are your contact will do his best to help, even if just in the spirit of good networking karma.
Be gracious and flexible. When in a job search, it is your priority. It is not the priority of others, and although your contacts may wish to help, it may be a particularly busy time for them. If your email goes unanswered, wait a few weeks and try again. If you’re truly interested in re-establishing the relationship (vs. just seeing if this person can be useful to you in the moment, which is not networking), then you’ll make it a priority to reconnect regardless. If you only reach out to people when you need something, you’ll soon find fewer and fewer people willing to respond.
Rebuilding your network IS possible. Once you re-establish your connections, prevent your network from going cold again as it’ll be harder to warm it up a second time if you lose touch. Advances in technology and social media have provided a number of quick ways to stay connected more easily than ever before. Develop a networking strategy and use it. Chances are you’ll be in many job searches during your career, so you’ll be glad you did!