January 26, 2018
If building your network is one of your business goals, then getting back in touch with former colleagues or supervisors might be part of that strategy. Often a previous co-worker can help with finding work, or an old boss can provide a good reference.
But when the working-together period was a long time ago, you may hesitate to reach out. In an environment where people make frequent job changes, it’s easy to lose touch. But that doesn’t mean you should write people off, Jodi Glickman says in an article for Harvard Business Review.
“It’s entirely possible to reconnect with people, even if it seems preposterous after months or years gone by,” she writes. “The passage of time is not a good enough reason to let a potential connection go to waste.”
How can you reach out in a professional manner? Glickman offers these tips in her article:
“Throw in an offer of help or reciprocity for good measure,” Glickman recommends. “You’re much more likely to get a response when you think about a two-way benefit and not just how you can take advantage of the other person’s expertise or connections.”
It’s best to be direct so that your contact isn’t left guessing about what you’re looking for, Sara McCord writes on Mashable.com: “Be respectful of his or her time…. Get to the point. You could say, ‘I just moved to Austin, and I’d love to discuss the local marketing scene.’”
Business author Michelle Tillis Lederman, in a Monster.com interview, suggests finding ways to smooth out the awkwardness of talking to someone after a long time. For example, you could ask a mutual connection to contact the person you’ve lost touch with, or use a LinkedIn notification about a promotion as a reason to reach out.
Underselling or overselling your previous connection could turn someone off or sound phony, McCord points out. If you start out with “I’m not sure if you remember me,” she writes, “you’re telling the other person that you categorize him or her distantly.” If they feel they don’t know you well enough, they may not see a reason to reconnect, let alone help you.
“However, the other extreme—pretending you were once much closer than you were—can also be off-putting. Aim to strike a balance,” McCord says in her post. Remind the person how you know each other in a friendly way, such as mentioning that you interned at her company or that you took a class together.
You might be nervous about taking these initiatives, but “you can (and should) reach out to those old connections,” McCord writes. “Who knows? You just could find that the person you most needed in your network was there all along, and is happy to help.”