Illustration: Ashley Siebels
I was recently walking in Manhattan when I saw someone who looked like Karen, a coworker from my first job, more than a decade ago.
Karen and I had helped plan a big launch party for our company. While reviewing the guest list, I had realized that while the entire staff was invited, my name wasn’t there. When Karen found out I wasn’t on the list, she raised hell and high-water and made sure that my name was included (which had been an oversight). I attended the party and had a great time.
But on the street that day, I paused. Was it Karen?
I had completely lost touch with her.
The importance of maintaining connection is a lesson that I come back to over and over.
I wish I had gleaned it during that first job. When you’re early in your career, people are always telling you to “network” and to “reach out to people.”
But they never tell you how (or why) to stay in touch.
Countless people with whom I have maintained better contact over the years have helped me with my career. I had their help because I managed to send that second email, call someone back, or text during the holidays.
Why is keeping in touch so hard?
Now that I’ve been working for many years, I have people who reach out to me for informational interviews or to ask for contacts or advice. Consistently, they’ll email me, we’ll connect, and they’ll thank me for my time. And then I’ll never hear from them again.
For example, a young woman who was interested in working in an office like mine reached out. I wrote her a lengthy email about how I had gotten started, sent her resources, and then had a half-hour phone conversation with her. Then I never heard from her again.
I completely forgot about her until my office was already weeks into interviewing for a new position. I sent her a note on LinkedIn, and she already had gotten a new job. I wonder if she had stayed in touch if she would have interviewed in my office?
Staying in touch isn’t always easy — especially with the multitude of social networks. Sometimes just picking the way to follow up can feel overwhelming.
But a wide net of people is an asset not just for my career, but to have people to listen to and learn new things. I wonder how much I’ve missed out on and what great people I’ve lost touch with because I neglected to keep emailing them.
Here are my three goals for following up with people.
Ask how they want you to stay in touch
When you know you’re making a transition — whether it’s moving across the country or leaving a job — ask people in your network how they want to stay in touch.
Not everyone likes spending time on Facebook, and some people are more into text than email. If you ask, then you won’t feel like you’re bothering someone or feel like you’re sending messages and getting no response.
Schedule time for follow-up
Sending notes to people doesn’t always feel like it’s useful and can feel like a chore. But the reality is that a follow-up doesn’t need to take a lot of time.
Writing a thank you note or a quick text to say that you hope they’re well shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes. And if it’s someone you’ve met for networking, sometimes just updating them on what you’re doing is enough.
Build in failsafes
Social hacks can help you to start a more in-depth conversation with people.
Facebook tells you someone’s birthday? Sent them an email or text instead of liking it.
LinkedIn tells you that someone got a new job? Send them a note or forward some information you think would be helpful.
Personal touches can make a big difference.
Ultimately, it doesn’t take a lot of work to stay in touch. But as you progress in your career, it’s worth it.