I received a LinkedIn message the other day from a former employee who has been laid off. I had sent him a connect request a couple of months ago and asked how things were going. He accepted the invitation but didn’t take the opportunity to re-connect and open a dialogue. In this new message he apologized and said that he wished he had taken the time to respond earlier. Now he was wondering if I could help him out in his job search.
I recommend maintaining a strong relationship with your professional network. That way, you don’t put yourself in the awkward position of asking for help from someone you haven’t spoken to in months or years. The reality is that it’s easier said than done. I’ve been in the position where I’ve felt embarrassed to reach out to someone due to the length of time that has passed since I spoke to them. Despite my best intentions, urgent projects at work and family projects at home sometimes put my networking activities on the back burner. There are many reasons why we may lose contact with someone. They move away, we change jobs; one of us stops the hobby or common interest that brought us together. My response to my erstwhile employee was, “what can I do to help?” because I’ve felt his pain.
If you find yourself in the awkward position of needing to revive a lapsed connection, here are five steps to help you do it:
1. Decide to take action.
Instead of beating yourself up for not staying in touch, give yourself permission to be human. Don’t assume that the person won’t want to hear from you. I recently had an old college roommate find me on Facebook. We hadn’t kept in touch since we graduated many moons ago but I was delighted to hear from her.
2. Make the first contact.
One of the easiest ways to reconnect is via email. I recommend putting the person at ease by acknowledging up front that it’s been a while since you connected. If you’re embarrassed, say so. This approach is applicable not only to friends and co-workers but also to people you met at networking functions but never followed up with. Be gracious and take ownership of the lapse in communication. This removes the anxiety the other person may have for not keeping in contact with you. If you’re feeling brave, your first contact can be a phone call. Don’t assume that the person will recognize your voice after a long period of time. Whether in an email or phone call, re-introduce yourself and refresh their memory about the last time you spoke to them. If you reach out via one of the social networking sites don’t just send a connect request, always attach a personal message as you would in an email.
3. Show a genuine interest in what they’ve been doing since you last connected.
Ask questions about their work projects or family or interests that you may have in common. Your goal is to get back the rapport that you once had.
4. Be candid and specific about what you want from them.
If you need a recommendation or would like an introduction, say so. Chances are your contact knows that there is some reason that you’ve reached out to them. They are waiting to hear it and are probably willing to help. If they’re not, it may because they are no longer a good fit for your network and that’s good to know as well.
5. Maintain the connection.
Now that you’ve done the hard part, don’t relapse. Create a follow-up system that will keep you on track to stay connected. This can be as simple as putting reminders on your calendar or as complex as using a contact management application. Pick what works for you, your network and your lifestyle. For some connections, a monthly email will suffice, for others a more frequent or more personal approach may be needed. Take advantage of social networking sites such as WomenCo. These sites make it easy for your network to know what’s happening with you. Even though you’re not personally speaking to each person, you’re keeping them in the loop.
Finally, remember to send a follow-up from your initial conversation or email exchange. Thank your contact for any assistance they provided but just as importantly, express your delight in re-connecting and close with an offer to assist them.
By Linda Griffin of WomenCo.