I was so glad when my friend Jodi Glickman wrote about the issue of getting back in touch with a networking contact after a time lapse on her Harvard Business Review blog, because I’ve been getting asked about it a lot lately. It seems that people do a great job making initial overtures with networking contacts, but when it comes to long-term follow up, they fall down.
Jodi says that it’s common to feel guilty about popping back into a person’s life who you haven’t seen or spoken to in ages because you suddenly need them personally or professionally. But the passage of time is not a good enough reason to let a great connection go to waste. According to Jodi, if you have someone you've been meaning to reach out to or someone you're dying to reconnect with, here are some easy steps to make a potentially awkward exchange much less painful and potentially even fruitful:
Don’t pretend you are best buds and that no time has passed – this is disingenuous and annoying. Instead of ignoring the elephant in the room, acknowledge the lapse of time upfront and give that time period some rationale or context. Have you been working or traveling abroad? Did you have a child, get married or change careers? Or, have you just been completely busy and self-absorbed? For example:
“Patricia, how are you? I'm sure you're surprised to hear from me. The last time we spoke I was headed off to graduate school. I wound up moving to Washington D.C. shortly thereafter, where I've been for the last five years.”
It's important to think about why you're reaching out now, after all this time, and be transparent about your motive. The "why now" should include both the transition or event that prompted you to get in touch and your agenda, if you have one. For example:
“After leaving the firm following the birth of my daughter, I recently came back online and I'm thrilled to be working with the consumer retail sector again. I was hoping you'd have time to sit down for coffee and catch up, I'd love to hear your perspective on how the industry has changed.”
As with any networking interaction, you should always be looking for something to do for your contact in return. If you clearly communicate how the other person will benefit from getting back in touch, they will be more likely to accept your overtures.