Have you ever moved away from a close friend or family member? I still remember when I took my first job and moved away from my twin sister. Not only did we have to split our closet full of clothes that we used to share, but we also had to find a new routine for staying connected. I will let you guess which one of these tasks was more difficult for us (hint: she still asks me for the whereabouts of certain clothing items). We all have experiences like this that demand finding a new normal and add a new degree of challenge to staying connected.
Good news - your ability to pursue connectedness with your friends and family has prepared you well for staying connected to those in your professional network. Many of the same principles you’ve used in the past will continue to work just as well. We will apply them in ways that make sense for the nature of your professional relationships.
Let’s start by defining networking. For those of you who like computers, you know that a computer network is a link between two or more devices. Your professional network follows this same principle, only you are finding links between two or more people. You may be linked to the people in your professional network for many reasons. You may have shared interests, similar career ambitions, or simply believe the person offers great advice. A professional network is often made up of a variety of people, including your peers, professors, employers, and others. As you build your professional network by continuing to meet new people and exploring the links you share, you will find connections that are worth keeping long-term. Let’s discuss 3 strategies to help you do this successfully.
Strategy 1: Establish a Method for Tracking Your Professional Network
Professional networks can grow quickly and be really hard to track, so it will be important for you to create a method for tracking those in your network. Keeping up with detail about your contacts can be helpful for many reasons. It can help to spark ideas when you have a questions and need to think of someone who can help. It also helps you to be intentional when reaching out to your connections because you’ll have the ability to remind them when you met and have a method of contacting them in an easy-to-access place. There are several ways that you can do this, so pick the method that is best for you. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:
- Create an excel spreadsheet to track those in your network. You can include information such as the contact’s name, email, phone number, place of employment, date you met them, last date you reached out, how you chose to reach out, etc. This strategy is great for those who want to track specific information about their connections or who may prefer a less public way of maintaining a record of their connections.
- Be active on LinkedIn and use this resource to connect with those you meet. It is easy to send connection requests on LinkedIn and this platform will also be helpful for strategy 2 (stay tuned). Using LinkedIn is a networking best practice and is recommended for everyone.
- Create a folder in your preferred email inbox called “Networking” and use it to collect your communications between yourself and those in your professional network, which can often occur via email. Email folders are easy to create and are searchable, helping you to recall your conversations with those in your network and pick up with your connections where you left off.
Strategy 2: Keep Your Contacts “Warm”
This is a very important strategy. If your connections do not hear from you, they will not know how they can help or support you. Staying in touch with your connections is called keeping them “warm”. When seeking to use this strategy, start by deciding which contacts you’d like to keep “warm”. Then, brainstorm ways that you can keep them updated. Below are a few ideas to get you started:
Ideas for LinkedIn and other forms of social media you are using professionally -
- Scroll through the feed, commenting and liking the posts of those in your network.
- Post important academic or professional updates, thought-provoking articles or books, or samples of your work to your profile for your connections to see.
- Send messages directly to people in your network. You are welcome to share the same information listed above, only this time you can tailor your message for the specific connection. This is a great way to show someone in your network that you value them and the time they are spending investing in you.
Other strategies -
- Send periodic email updates about your progress in school, new projects you are working on, or to ask for advice related to your professional or career development.
- Share a thought-provoking article or book that made you think of someone in your network. Share this using a method that fits the relationship.
- If appropriate, give those in your network periodic phone calls or share text updates about your academic or professional milestones.
- Ask to meet up in-person. You could ask to grab coffee or a meal. Let them know what you are hoping to discuss and how much of their time you need when you reach out.
- Send a thank you card! We live in a time where people send mail less and less. Choosing to send your connections a card is memorable and can show them that you value their time.
Strategy 3: When in doubt, reach out!
Few people do an effective job of keeping contacts “warm”. For most of us, it is typical to go months or even years without connecting with those in our professional network. This tendency to forget about our contacts happens for many reasons. Sometimes we are anxious about how to reach out to someone or are unsure of what to say, and other times we are swept up into the pace of life and are not intentional about reaching out to our contacts. No matter the reasons that best describe your situation, strategy 3 is for you- When in doubt, reach out! Why? Because the worst thing that can happen is that you do not get a response. If someone comes to your mind, be the person who takes the small step of reaching out rather than shuffling the thought aside. Sending someone an update will take a few minutes of your time and could result in an impact that you cannot predict. If you are unsure about how to reconnect with a connection, I recommend crafting an email or message with the following components: (1) a reminder of who you are and how you met the connection, (2) an update on your academic or professional life, (3) a clear reason for your outreach, (4) a sincere thank you for the person’s time.
These 3 strategies are a starting place, but beginning to practice them regularly will help you feel more comfortable with them and create a robust network of people who are willing support you. If you need any help building or maintaining your professional network, connect with the UGA Career Center. We are glad to help!