To make sure there’s no confusion, I’m not talking here about physically maintaining a computer network, which might have only incidental relevance in a job search, if any at all. This is somewhat of a follow-up to a recent post about “Selective Networking.” In this case, however, the reference is to keeping up a strong, useful network of contacts once you’ve built it.
Basically, the important point to keep in mind is that a contact network doesn’t maintain itself. You have to do the work if you want it to stay healthy and beneficial to you in your next job search or career advancement campaign.
If you’re not able and willing to put a fair amount of effort into network maintenance over the long haul, you need to recognize that there’s no incentive to people in your network to be there for you when you need them. Why should they? They’re not your mother–or anyone else with a vested, familial interest in your career success!
Stay in Touch with Your Career Network
Okay, so I’ve said this before, a time or three, but it’s critical enough to repeat. The more you stay in meaningful touch with your network, the more likely those people are to think of you when something potentially helpful comes up or to be willing to provide some sage advice when you ask for it.
A recent article by Heather Huhman, titled “5 Ways to Stay in Touch with Your Professional Network,” is one of the items I’ve read over the past few months that touch on this important topic. As is often the case, much of what Huhman wrote is probably not earth-shakingly new, but it’s a decent presentation of some key points about maintaining your network in a job search. Briefly, these are the 5 ways she recommends using:
Social media: Don’t just add connections; make them “real” and valuable through your social media involvement.
Email: Share something they might be interested in, ask them for advice, etc.
Phone calls: Obviously, you can’t call 300+ people (or however many you have in your LinkedIn network, for example), but you can selectively use the personal touch a phone call provides to make direct contact, ask a relevant question, etc.
Greeting cards: For those of you familiar with e-cards, no, that’s not what Huhman means! a short, handwritten note on a businesslike but attractive card can be a good thank-you method or otherwise help you personalize your relationship with a contact.
Invitation to a meeting: Arranging a face-to-face meeting (lunch, coffee, whatever) allows you to get face-time with key contacts in your network. Just come prepared with a plan to make the most of it–ask pertinent questions to gain career advice, for example.
Network Maintenance–When to Do It
If you’re asking how much time to put into your network maintenance, the answer is, as much as you can manage! Seriously, whether or not you’re engaged in an active job search, periodic attention to key people in your network is critical. Those who are less “key” still could merit some attention; otherwise, why do you have them in your network in the first place?
You might spend some time in the near future looking at the people currently in your network and prioritizing them according to their level of value (or potential value) in your career management plan. Then build network maintenance time into your ongoing schedule to start working your way down the priority list as far as you think is worth the effort or as much as you can in a busy schedule.
If you approach the maintenance in a reasonably organized fashion like this, your effort is more likely to pay off than if you do it haphazardly or not at all.