In many industries, there’s a well-known sentiment often shared with newcomers. The wording varies, but it basically states that success is the result of knowing the right people.
Surely, ambition, determination, and taking initiative have much to do with most individuals’ professional successes; however, the fact remains that knowing the right people can be quite advantageous. In fact, many of us continue to put our time and energy into making connections and building relationships in hopes of furthering our careers. But what about those who are already in your network?
No matter your field or vocation, there are likely a number of people in your professional network with whom you’ve lost touch and to whom you no longer speak regularly. Wouldn’t it be great if you could somehow reconnect with some of those people?
As it turns out, you can. And the good news is that the hardest part — re: finding them, meeting them, and establishing that initial connection — is already done. Basically, you just need to re-energize existing relationships. So what’s the best way to reconnect with a former colleagues or acquaintances?
Perhaps you already have a circle of close friends and colleagues who you see regularly or even daily. If you’re satisfied with the size of your immediate network, what incentive is there to reconnect with people with whom you’ve lost touch?
There are a number of reasons to reconnect, many of which derive from basic logic. Here’s a prime example: When you speak to a person daily, how often does he or she actually have valuable new information to share with you? So it stands to reason that you could learn a lot more from someone to whom you don’t regularly talk. In other words, establishing new connections offers new sources of information and perhaps even professional opportunities.
But doesn’t that make finding new connections a better strategy than strengthening previous ones? Yes and no. While meeting new people can certainly open doors, reconnecting is simply faster and easier. Instead of having to find the right people, make the necessary introductions, and establish foundations for those relationships, reaching out to people with whom you’ve simply lost touch lets you skip a few steps. In short, you’re working with foundations that have already been laid.
There are few social interactions as awkward as that first encounter with someone to whom you’ve not spoken in an extended period of time. That awkwardness is especially palpable when the encounter is in person.
More often than not, these exchanges follow a specific pattern: One party energetically proclaims how it’s “been too long” and the other agrees. Both are privately relieved when they realize that they’re both “off the hook,” having accepted no culpability for the extended lapse. The next moments are comprised of impersonal briefings and felicitations, checking the obligatory social boxes. Both parties walk away knowing scarcely more about each other than before with only vague, half-hearted plans to meet at some indeterminate point in the future.
As you’ve surely experienced, running into people you’ve not seen in a long time is awkward, and there’s really no getting around that awkwardness. The important thing is to not let the awkwardness deter you from reconnecting.
One of the most underrated benefits of social media is that you can see the people to whom your connections are connected. So when there are mutual connections between you and another person, those individuals are usually easy to spot, especially on social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn.
When you’re looking to reconnect to a former colleague or acquaintance, leveraging a mutual contact is a great strategy. For one thing, this might help to alleviate some of the aforementioned awkwardness. However, the most important benefit is that it adds to your credibility when you have someone who’s socially “vouching” for you.
So if there’s a mutual connection between you and the person with whom you want to reconnect, you might consider contacting him or her and asking whether he or she might setup a meeting, perhaps over lunch or cocktails.
There are many reasons why you might want to reconnect with someone in your professional network; however, whether you’re hoping that he or she can help you advance your career or you simply want to restore the connection, it’s a good idea to do your homework.
It’s never a good idea when reaching out to someone to imply that the only reason you’re contacting him or her is for your own benefit. “I’m contacting you because I was hoping you could do me a favor” is something nobody is ever excited to read. But if you do some homework on the person — e.g., browsing his or her social media profiles and taking note of recent accomplishments, career changes, etc. — you can break the ice (and generate more interest) with comments that are personally relevant to him or her.
So doing a little homework will allow you to start your email with something like “I’m writing to congratulate you on your new job with such-and-such company” instead of something like “I’m writing in hope of having you introduce me to such-and-such person at your company.” This shows that you’re not contacting the person solely to ask for a favor, which is particularly important if that’s ultimately your goal.