These days, work just doesn’t seem to confine itself to work hours. We check emails in the evening and engage in professional development on the weekends. But even with all the extra time we put in, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the assumption that we should be doing more to expand our business contacts. However, there are ways to network that can be easy to fit into a busy schedule.
Even if you’re in a great job with no thoughts of leaving, it’s important to stay connected to former colleagues and engaged in new developments in your field. Staying open to new opportunities and innovations also keeps your perspective fresh.
Think of networking like health care: you don’t want to find yourself needing contacts but not having any. Maintaining connections and showing up for industry events are proactive ways to nourish your career and keep it healthy.
Here are a few tips on how to make networking a natural extension of your contacts list.
Nourish Your Existing Contacts…Cass Hodges is a recent expatriate who left the tech industry in Portland, OR, to work in Europe for a leader in the gaming industry. While his new role requires a lot of energy as well as travel, he has prioritized keeping in touch with his network.
“I tend to make connections at work that I want to continue even after moving on to new things. So staying in touch with former coworkers and bosses has always been something that seems natural and beneficial to me,” Hodges told The FruitGuys Magazine. “Now, with a large time difference between me and most folks, I try to make an effort to send an email or LinkedIn message and let them know I’m thinking of them.”
No matter where you are geographically, it’s still important to make the effort to stay in touch. The best approach to this is a natural one: Did you have a colleague you loved working with? Schedule time to hear an update about what they’re working on and how they’ve been. Has a project you worked on recently been completed, or is it approaching a milestone or anniversary? Send a quick note and let your former teammates know you’re thinking about them.
Maintaining relationships with leadership is an extremely good move for your career. It demonstrates not only that you left on good terms, but also keeps you in the minds of managers who may be hiring, or may have moved on to a new company. You never know when a contact could become a lead for a new opportunity.
Statistically speaking, you’re far more likely to find work within your existing network than you are from a cold contact. In fact, one such study by CEO and author, Lou Adler, on LinkedIn surveyed 3,000 people and discovered that 85 percent of all jobs are filled via networking.
…And Add New Ones
But networking goes beyond your current contact list—it’s important to expand your circle. Conferences, meet-ups, mixers, and screenings are happening nearly every night of the week. Get plugged into event listings in your community and make time to attend a few. These are exciting places to learn and connect with others. If you’re naturally shy, consider attending an event where you can represent your position or company, which will give you talking points for meeting new people.
For bonus points, invite a former colleague to join you. But plan dinner or drinks before or after to catch up with your former colleague—then both of you can use the event itself to meet new people.
In-person events are not the only way to make new connections. Schedule an hour per week to read Medium posts, your LinkedIn feed, or other sources of industry information. And don’t just passively consume content: comment on the posts that resonate with you, and share articles with your own professional network or with individuals. Being active on social media in business keeps your name fresh in people’s minds. It also extends the dialogue to other people in your network who may have slipped through the cracks.
Like any relationship, maintaining connections takes a bit of effort, but the rewards can be great. The more you practice building and nurturing your contact list, the easier it becomes.
Rhienna Renée Guedry is a Louisiana-born writer who now lives in Portland, OR. She’s best known for her writing, illustrations, and curating the best Halloween parties this side of the Mississippi.