Good professional networks are like good relationships. In order to reap the benefits, you need to put in the time, even when things are going smoothly.
But what happens if you’ve neglected your network and lost touch with your contacts? It’s common to get lulled into the complacency of a good job without thinking and planning for the future. When the time comes to look for something else, it’s been ten, maybe 15 or more years since your contacts last heard from you.
By then, many people may not even remember who you are. And if they do, it might seem awkward to ask for a professional favor after so many years of silence. At what point is it too late to reconnect?
The short answer is that it’s never too late, depending on how you approach it. Certainly you’ve nothing to lose by trying. But what you say can make a big difference in your success. Here are some tips.
Know Your Audience
How you choose to reconnect can be just as important as what you say. And this has a lot to do with the age and demographic of whom you’re dealing with. While somebody from an older generation might prefer a phone call or email, it might be more appropriate or acceptable to reach a younger colleague via social media outlets such as LinkedIn.
Try to keep in mind that this is a business inquiry, so you don’t want to confuse the message by coming across as too informal. Facebook might be fine in some cases, but texting, tweeting or messaging are never good options.
Get to the Point
Although it’s important to be friendly and polite, you should avoid too much small talk before making your pitch. In fact, the longer you’ve been out of touch, the more disingenuous it will seem. At best, the contact will feel impatient. At worst, they’ll feel manipulated or betrayed when they learn your real intention.
Remind them who you are and get right to the point. If you’re able to make a brief, relevant reference to something from the past, do so. For instance, if you and your contact once had a conversation about surfing, you could say something like:
“Hi John, I hope this message finds you well. It’s been awhile since we last spoke. I saw an ad for “Endless Summer” the other day and thought of you. I hope you’re still making it to the beach a lot.
I’m reaching out because I’m currently looking for a position in public relations and was wondering if you could advise me on where to apply. Either way, I would love to reconnect.”
If it’s someone you barely know, you could just say something like:
“Hi Judy, it’s Joe Blow. We spoke briefly at a marketing event in San Francisco some years ago. I remember you were just starting out as a Creative Director at ABC. I’ve been working at XYZ in New York and have recently decided to relocate to the West Coast. I was wondering if you had any insight on West Coast firms that are hiring. Thanks for your time.”
Whether or not they can help, it’s important to follow up. If they’ve asked for something specific from you, such as your resume or samples of your work, send it right away. If not, thank them for their time and use this encounter as an opportunity to cultivate the relationship.
If it’s someone you’ve known in the past, suggest getting together for coffee or drinks. If not, try to stay in touch via social media. You’ve taken the first step in reconnecting. Now’s not the time to disappear again. Build up your relationship, so next time it will feel easier and more natural to connect. And hopefully, more productive.