Unexpected twists and turns happen all of the time in our professional lives, having a solid professional network can act as a safety net.
Why Your Network Matters
A child is born, causing a parent to start staying at home. A side business takes off. A spectacular job offer appears out of the blue. A severe illness occurs. A person is burnt out on their current career and needs a change. A company downsizes, leaving you without a job.
Those are just a few of the things that can happen during a career, completely changing the direction of your professional life.
It’s professional common sense to avoid burning those bridges. There’s no need to destroy all of your professional relationships on your way out the door, regardless of your feelings on the situation that led to your career shift. Make things as tidy as you can when you leave with as many positive feelings as you can possibly generate.
Once you’ve moved on, however, those old relationships still have value. They can be professional connections when you’ve moved to a new company, contacts to help you find a new job, or helpers who can assist you in finding your way back into the career path. Sometimes, they even pop up in your new career.
Maintaining those old relationships requires a bit more than just “friending” them on social media sites like Facebook or LinkedIn, however. A bit of a personal touch can cause an old connection to remain fresh and quite strong no matter what happens in your career.
Here’s how you do it.
How to Maintain Your Professional Network
Keep a List
For starters, you should have a list of valuable professional contacts. These are people you respect and value and would want to work with professionally in the future if the opportunity presented itself. These are the people you should stay in touch with. Use Linkedin.
After I switched careers, I made a list of twelve people I wanted to stay in touch with. I gave each of them an entry on my calendar. Every three months or so, I’m reminded to contact them, just to see what’s going on with them.
Reach Out on a Regular Basis
When I send them an email or give them a call, I don’t aim to talk about myself. I’ll answer their questions if they ask, but I mostly stick to two main aims.
First, I want to know how they’re doing. The best way to connect with someone is to ask them about themselves and give them free reign to talk about their achievements and their challenges. Almost everyone enjoys doing this, so it’s easy to get people to talk about themselves.
Second, I want to know how I can help. Most of the time, there isn’t anything I can do to help, but every once in a while there’s something useful I can provide. More than that, they know I’m willing to help them out. This often sticks around in the back of their mind. I’d say that about once every two weeks or so, I get an email from a former professional contact touching base and asking for help.
Not Everyone Should Make the List
The key to a solid professional network is not just breadth, but depth. While you need a lot of contacts for various reasons, you can not maintain the same level of relationship with 1,000 people as you can with 20. Guard and protect those spots in your professional network. Save them for people who want to help you as much as you want to help them.
The end result of all of this? I’m pretty confident I could switch career paths right now if I needed to. I have a number of great professional relationships that have lasted over time and I know that if I needed to make a career change, I could just start contacting these people and I would find work.
It doesn’t take much time. I’d estimate that I spend perhaps fifteen minutes a week doing these things, with occasional – maybe once every three months – tasks taking an hour or two. The reward? I maintain a number of useful professional and personal relationships that could help me if I were in a professional crisis.
To me, that’s well worth it. It’s such a simple process, too. Consider using this idea in your own professional life, particularly as you face and then move past a major professional change. It can only help.