Much has been written about how to expand your professional network – attend events, make connections, build relationships, et cetera, ad nauseam. Building your network, of course, is a worthwhile pursuit, but while you're busy looking for new connections don't overlook the older ones - namely your former coworkers.
Ongoing relationships with former coworkers "are the cornerstones of networking," famed etiquette consultant Jodi R. R. Smith of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting told CareerBliss.
"They provide resources for questions, industry trends and recommendations," she said. "And, should you find yourself looking for work, they are your first line of defense when job seeking."
Don't miss out on a great career resource by letting yourself fade away. Consider the following ways to stay connected:
1. Connect While You're Still Working Together
As the man says: It's a lot cheaper to keep an existing customer than to acquire a new one. Likewise, it's often much easier to maintain an existing professional relationship than to start one from scratch. With that in mind, make it a point to foster good relationships with your colleagues while you're still working with them.
Granted, not every coworker is going to be a weekend friend. But you don't need to be joined-at-the-hip confidants to have a mutually beneficial professional relationship. The goal is to have people remember you fondly when they reflect on working with you way back when (if they think so fondly of you that they want to name their first born in your honor, that's just a bonus).
2. Use Social Media
No longer merely a dumping ground for banal inanities (though you can still find plenty of that stuff, if that's your thing), social media sites are a place where professionals connect and share ideas. Sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (the true grown-up of the bunch) are a great way to maintain connections to coworkers past. By friending them, following them or adding them to your network, you ensure that you remain in their sphere of relevancy.
Life coach Jennifer Lee suggests creating a "former coworkers list" on Facebook and using it to stay connected.
"I look at my previous coworkers' posts every day and make sure I comment on their posts as often as possible," she said. "Every week I choose a few to reach out to personally via Facebook message or phone call. I have received a ton of business and personal referrals from my previous co-workers because I stay 'top of mind.' "
LinkedIn is a great way to track the career triumphs of former coworkers – and spark conversations, said David T. Jones of marketing firm Third Street.
"I always send a note of congratulations when I see an old friend has been promoted or started a new job. These notes have led to conversations and business opportunities," he said.
3. Reach Out
You know that person – the one who keeps you on the pay-no-mind list until he needs a favor?
Avoid being that person.
Don't just sit silently on someone's friends list only to chime in when it serves you. Communicate regularly – but don't overdo it – and be sure that the bulk of your communication has value to the former coworker.
Share some new information; wish them a happy birthday; inquire about the kids; give them a good laugh. "If you see something that reminds you of a former coworker, make an effort to reach out and tell them about it, especially if it's funny," said Gillian Casten, founder of RateYourBurn.com. "If you can show someone you haven't forgotten about them and make them laugh, it's a double whammy."
4. See Each Other
Communicating in cyberspace is fine, but nothing compares to some good old fashioned face time (and no, not on your iPad!). Make attempts to see former coworkers every so often. Attend networking events together; invite some former colleagues to a party you're hosting; or even put together a fantasy football group to keep everyone connected.
5. Lend a Hand
Look for ways that you can assist former coworkers (we're talking about lending a hand in the career realm. But feel free to babysit for them, help them move or assist in applying sunscreen – it's your call). Helping out needn't be overly taxing or time-consuming – make an introduction; forward some pertinent information; let them know about job opportunities; send some referral business their way. Let them know that you're a valuable connection and that you're looking out for them. They are sure to reciprocate – and if they don't, focus your energy on others.
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