Networking Tips: How to Keep in Touch with Former Colleagues

colleaguesAh, the familiar sight of the ‘Goodbye and Good Luck’ card – a staple purchase for workers who want to send their parting colleagues off with a ‘Bon Voyage.’

But as a receiver of one of these cards, what are you supposed to do about all the messages that say ‘keep in touch?’  I mean, what does ‘keeping in touch’ specifically entail? It’s easy to blush and feel awkward as you say your goodbyes, but don’t make false promises.

Keeping in touch with old colleagues doesn’t have to feel weird. In fact, here are some tips on how you can successfully maintain good relationships with the people you used to work with without coming off as some kind of crazed stalker – or worse, someone who only uses their ex-workmates to get ahead.

Why Bother Staying in Touch?

If you are looking for a new job, or are looking to get promoted, having a network of contacts in your address book can help you succeed. Many jobs are filled by word of mouth and guess who knows your employment history, your interests and shares the same industry knowledge as you? That’s right; it’s your former colleagues.

So why wouldn’t you want to check in with them every now and then to see if they have heard of any vacancies or events in your sector?  You may also need a reference someday, or a ‘good word’ in an employer’s ear.  Wouldn’t you rather ask a massive favour like that of someone with whom you have a good professional relationship, rather than approach someone in whom you haven’t shown the slightest bit of interest in since you left your previous job? My guess is the former, but what happens if you’ve left it too long and you’re wondering if your former colleagues even remember who you are?  Don’t worry; there are still steps you can take to rebuild those bridges, even if it’s been a while.

Be the Kind of Person People Want to Network With

Networking for professional purposes is very different from making friends. You have to make certain choices and decide what you want to get out of the whole endeavor, and decide how much help you want from certain people along the way.

When you’re making friends, it’s fine to be easy-going – but with networking, you have to be more assertive and learn how to approach people, ask questions and make requests.

A good way to get your head around this is to research your industry and work on your own interests to develop into the type of person that people will naturally want to gravitate towards. Become an expert in your chosen field and share everything you find out, and soon the people will want start coming to you for advice.

Social Networking

Setting up professional social networking accounts on all the main sites will give you the platform to explore and share your findings in your quest to become an industry expert. Pictures from nights out and TV rants can go on a separate account; your professional profiles have to be free of such things.

This way, you can feel comfortable going ahead and adding all of those old colleagues you remember from your past and hopefully get some of them involved in your conversations.

Share your Triumphs and Life Events

If you have moved house, got married or have experienced a big life event, sending over an email or letter with your new contact information or exciting news is a great way to break the ice if it’s been a long time since you last got in touch.

If you haven’t done anything exciting lately, look for industry events and send them an invite or some information about it.

Post It

There are directories online that can help you find an address based on searching for the person’s name, initial and rough geographical location. With this information (which is typically gathered from the electoral roll) you can get in touch and send them a Christmas card – or a card for a different occasion – even if you haven’t had any contact with them all year.

Everybody writes Christmas cards to people they don’t see very often (I think that’s the point of them); they work as an ice-breaker and lets the other person know that you’re thinking of them.

If it’s been years since you spoke to a former colleague sending a card is a great ‘in’ and the best part is, if you don’t know what to say, ‘Merry Christmas, hope you’re well’ is really all you need to re-start a conversation.

What to Say When Keeping in Touch

This is the part that many people feel the most awkward about – what should you actually say and do in order to keep in touch? Well, that’s completely based on your previous relationship and how much stuff you have in common with the other person.

But a good way to start is to think of your mutual interests and start a conversation about that – a simple, ‘Did you catch the new series of …’ works. You could also start a correspondence by simply asking your colleague how life is in the office since you left and tell them a little bit about what you’re getting up to now.

As for how often you should touch base: to keep from coming off as a person who only uses their former contacts to get ahead, I would recommend sending a message every few months. But make sure that you don’t ask too much of your contacts too often, as you will just appear annoying. Keep it simple and polite and see where you go from there.

If you have any tips for staying in touch with old colleagues, share your experiences below.

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