As the economy warms up, more of your contacts are on the move — and going places that could be right for you. How do you tighten a network that’s gone slack?
People have a bad habit of letting their networks go stale when they land new positions. They’ll certainly stay in touch during the job search; after all, networking is a great way of finding new opportunities. But once they’re back on the job, they drop the active networking that helped them land it in the first place.
LinkedIn, Facebook and other business networks offer some ongoing connection, but they don’t provide personal touch and top-of-mind awareness of an active “career tribe.” That’s why I coach all clients in transition not only to build an effective tribe but to manage it actively — because you never know when the next shoe will drop or the next opportunity will arise.
In the current recession, your network may have gone cold on its own. With more of your colleagues unemployed and fewer able to help their networks advance, many people stopped trying to network and lost touch. As the economy rebounds, job seekers will have to rekindle those relationships, too.
Job seekers often tell me they feel awkward reconnecting with former colleagues, coworkers and mentors they haven’t contacted since their last job hunt. Of course, I can slap them on the hands and say, “Naughty, naughty. You didn’t keep yourself connected the way you should have!”… but that doesn’t solve their dilemma. Therefore, let’s snuff out guilt — which, if kept alive, will ruin any efforts to reconnect anyway.
Here are a few effective ways to re-ignite a group of friends and business relationships.
1. Admit you lost touch:
It’s weirder not to acknowledge the rhinoceros head in the room than to acknowledge it — so don’t gloss over the fact that you haven’t reached out in ages. Chances are, the person on the other end of the line is just like you; most people don’t keep their career tribes active and vibrant. Therefore, begin by stating the obvious… but in an Everyman kind of way:
“Gosh, it’s been ages. I don’t know if you’re like me, but I get so busy with all that’s going on with work and family that staying in touch with people that matter to me takes a back burner. It’s not right, and I intend to correct that moving forward because, as we both know, relationships are everything.”
2. Don’t make it all about YOU:
Yes, you are connecting with your contact now because you’re looking for clients or a job. However, the worst thing you can do is immediately jump into what you want or need from him. Instead, you need to rebuild the relationship by demonstrating interest in him.
“So, is now a good time to talk, or could we grab a coffee? How are you? What’s been going on in your world? How are the kids/husband/pets/projects?” Draw on your knowledge of your contact to get him talking about himself and what he’s up to. Getting your contact to tell you stories about his life, career and exploits builds “relationship equity.”
3. Have a research project:
At some point, the point of your call will come up naturally. I would offer it up before you’re asked. But my No. 1 rule in career transition is, “The best way to get a job is not to look for one!”
Sounds ironic, but you’ll always get further meeting more people faster when you connect based on reasons other than your need for a job. So create something worthwhile on which your contact could advise you other than your resume or job search. Are there new developments at the cutting edge of your industry about which she may have thoughts? Which players in your field do you want information about? Your inquiry doesn’t need to be formal; nevertheless, it does need to feel like you’re researching a topic, not prospecting for jobs.
I recently helped a social-network newbie set up her first profile on LinkedIn, which created a built-in opportunity to network in the name of research. The woman used her status as a LinkedIn newbie to reconnect with her contacts and ask them how they used the service. Once in touch and talking, she parlayed the connection into some greater research projects in her industry. For her, networking was the research project.
4. Wait to be asked:
People aren’t stupid. You need never flat out say to them, “I’m looking for a job.” If you have a solid reason to call for their opinions and advice, you’re building relationship equity. After all, everyone wants to feel like the “expert,” and people love to give advice. If you’ve handled the first three steps gracefully, the person on the other end will probably ask, “So, are you in the market?” That’s what you want: them asking you. This gives you the opening you need to reply, “Oh, well, yes, one reason I have the space to reconnect with helpful folks like you is because I was recently downsized…. But I want to make a smart move this time, which is why I’m focused on researching these issues. Of course, if you know others you think I should speak to, I’d be grateful if you can direct me to them.”
This more subtle approach will generally net you a more open and willing connection than if you tried to say hello after five years and immediately asked for job-search help. Re-establishing relationships based on warmth and mutual interest is far more comfortable and effective than requesting job leads. The power of relationships can truly amaze you if you use them wisely. And their benefit is never one sided. The advice, input and connections your contacts offer you today will always benefit them eventually. The universe reciprocates… but you gotta get out there and make your contributions. Taking the first step to reconnect is a big contribution.