Ongoing relationships with former co-workers "are the cornerstones of networking," says Jodi R. R. Smith, president of Massachusetts-based Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. "They provide resources for questions, industry trends and recommendations. 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
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 co-worker 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.
2. Use social media
No longer merely a dumping ground for random thoughts, social media sites are a place where professionals connect and share ideas. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are a great way to maintain connections to co-workers past. By friending them, following them or adding them to your network, you ensure that you remain in touch.
Life coach Jennifer Lee suggests creating a "former co-workers list" on Facebook and using it to stay connected. "I look at my previous co-workers' posts every day and make sure I comment on their posts as often as possible," Lee says. "Every week I choose a few to reach out to personally via a 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 co-workers -- and spark conversations, said David T. Jones of Chicago 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," Jones says.
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 for the former co-worker. Share some new information, wish them a happy birthday, inquire about the kids or give them a good laugh.
"If you see something that reminds you of a former co-worker, make an effort to reach out and tell them about it, especially if it's funny," says Gillian Casten, founder of fitness reviews website 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 co-workers every so often. Attend networking events together, invite some former colleagues to a party you're hosting or put together a fantasy football group to keep everyone connected.
5. Lend a hand
Look for ways that you can assist former co-workers -- we're talking about lending a hand in the career realm. But feel free to baby-sit 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 or 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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