The Delicate Art of Staying in Touch with Networking Contacts
Congratulations! If you are reading this, you have likely taken the seemingly scary step out of your comfort zone to network with someone, whether at an event or via an informational interview. You should be proud of making this crucial move that can help you better understand a potential career path and / or organization, as well as tap into the ‘hidden job market.’ Hopefully, you have learned some valuable information and clarified some questions related to your career goals. But now what? Networking, if done correctly, should rarely begin and end with the first conversation you have with a contact. A successful networking approach is one where you strategically and respectfully maintain and develop your connection to the contact, ideally resulting in a mutually beneficial relationship. Below are some action steps you can take to keep your networking connections interested.
- Start by saying thank you. Send a nice thank you e-mail or card to show your appreciation for the contact’s time and assistance. Point out something you enjoyed about the conversation or something new you learned. Mention that you look forward to staying in touch. If you use LinkedIn (it’s great for keeping track of networking contacts), mention you will be sending them a connection request as a means of doing so. This may help to ensure they log in to accept your request, and provided the contact is active on LinkedIn, you will both then be able to see what the other is posting, engaged with, and more.
- Track your networking contacts. Keep a spreadsheet or other document to help you keep track of pertinent details such as who you have met, their job title, company name, key information learned from the conversation, date you met, and any follow up items. This will help you be clear about the networking progress you have made and who you would like to remain connected with.
- Prioritize Your Contacts. You may have met many people and be wondering, how am I going to stay in touch with each of these people consistently while still getting everything else done? The answer is to be strategic. It is easy to add people to LinkedIn or collect business cards. The trickier part is where to go from there. Prioritize who you want to have more consistent connection with by asking yourself some of the following questions: who was most closely aligned with my career goal? Who genuinely appeared open to a continued relationship and helping me moving forward? Who do I really want to continue to learn from? These are the people you will want to put extra effort into staying connected with going forward.
- Utilize a good mix of these strategies to maintain networking relationships:
- Keep the relationship alive using LinkedIn: Use LinkedIn to like, comment on, or share posts that your connections are sharing. For example, in response to an interesting article, you could post a comment stating “Thanks for sharing this. It was super interesting to read!” or you can choose to comment/ask a question about something you read in the article that starts a conversation thread. Either way, you are reminding the connection of you, engaging with them, and hopefully presenting yourself as an engaged, thoughtful professional. You could also used LinkedIn to create or share your own posts, which will help to grab the attention of your connections as well. For ideas, browse through your own LinkedIn Home Feed to see how your connections are successfully engaging with their networks.
- Find ways to connect that don’t involve asking for anything. Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard Business School and coauthor of Learn to Love Networking sums it up nicely when she states that “good relationships need to be nurtured. If you care for that person to be in your network, you should avoid contacting him or her only in a moment of need.” Think about how you may help your networking contacts. Did they mention anything in your initial conversation that they are feeling stuck with? Any hobbies they like to pursue? Perhaps you know of a great article, book, movie, event etc. that they would appreciate you sharing with them? Share something with them just because and you are going to make yourself stand out that much more.
- Seek their input from time to time: Is their company hiring? Perhaps you could ask if they have any insight about the role such as why is it available or what a typical day might be like. Ask them what they think about a recent news announcement or article related to their industry. Or seek their input about things such as a technique, program, or professional development opportunity related to their industry. The point here is to find genuine touchpoints to briefly reconnect and remind them about you. Note: this strategy should not be used too often; every couple of months or even less frequently is ideal. You want to avoid being overbearing when connecting. Mix up these strategies with more subtle ones such as liking, commenting, or sharing information on LinkedIn or Twitter, for a delicately balanced approach.
- Take advantage of special occasions/holidays: Did they recently get married? Send them a congratulations card in the mail. Send best wishes at a holiday, again thanking them for helping you earlier in the year. No need to write a long, drawn out message in this case. Again, these serve as minor touch points where you can remind them about you, and how thankful you are to have them as a contact, and you should not be asking for anything when using this strategy.
- Take time to Evaluate your Networking Efforts: After a few months of putting these strategies into action, take time to think about how things have been going. If there is someone you really wanted to keep in touch with who simply has not been responsive, it may be wise to move on and stop trying to regularly reach out. Also, consider your list of priority contacts. Is the list still the same or have your priority contacts shifted? It’s perfectly fine to mix up who you will put your efforts into staying in touch with from time to time. As you grow and change, so do your needs and the connections that can help you move forward on those needs. It’s never a bad idea to share something with your network that may help your contacts if you happen to come across it, whether they are on your priority list or not. You never know just how much impact it may have on them, and therefore your relationship with them.