Care and Feeding of Your Network: 4 Strategies that Work

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I always emphasize the importance of networking for job search, especially in fields that tend to be tight-knit or don’t have the resources to do lots of recruiting at big events or on big job boards, like small and mid-size nonprofit organizations. The idea is to develop relationships with people in your field of interest, with the goal that they will remember you when a job becomes available at their organization or others where they have a connection, will tell you to go apply for the job, and ideally will put in a good word for you. Having this internal referral can mean the difference between your resume being one of a hundred (or these days, 900) random, anonymous, probably qualified candidates who saw a job posting on the internet, versus being one that gets at least a second look or even an interview.

So, I tell people to go out, try to meet people in their field, and do informational interviews. But once you’ve met someone, had a nice chat with him or her, sent him or her a nice thank-you email followed by a real, handwritten thank-you card, and connected to him or her via Linkedin, and Twitter, what’s next?  You want to be remembered by the person, right? Otherwise, when a job comes up that’s perfect for you, they won’t even remember your name. Here are some strategies for staying in touch:

1. Send resources and news articles. Consider what’s important to that person. Do they work in fundraising or advancement? Send them the news article you saw about how the Gates Foundation is changing its funding goals, or how new rules might be affecting donors. Are they in HR? Send them that link you saw about new training opportunities in the field. Recently, I had an opportunity to be interviewed by a journalist about the job market in NYC–but I haven’t lived there in two and a half years, so I referred the opportunity to my old boss, which she greatly appreciated. Keep up to date on interesting news, conferences, training programs, and events that the other person might find interesting, and you are well on your way to not just being remembered, but being remembered as a useful, generous resource.

2. Introduce them to others. Perhaps a job has opened at their organization, but you are not the right fit for it. Instead of just moving along to your next project, think through those people you know and can recommend, and consider forwarding the job along to them. If one of your contacts is interested and decides to apply, consider letting your contact know, perhaps with a referral or recommendation. If it works out that your contact is hired, not only do you now have another ally at the organization you want to work for, but you will also be remembered as the person who introduced them to that great new hire.

3. Send little personal notes. Perhaps you happen to know (or find out via Facebook) that it’s your contact’s birthday. Send a birthday card. The holidays are coming up–consider sending your contacts a nice, non-religious winter greeting card. You will be remembered as the extremely nice person who remembers others.

4. Send a personal, but professional, e-newsletter. I have only had one former student use this strategy, but it was (and is) brilliant. Every so often, maybe every 3 to 6 months or so, this individual sends out a little email newsletter focusing on her recent professional accomplishments. When she was in school, her e-newsletters focused on the classes she was taking and her internships. Lately, they focus on her job. Usually there’s a fun picture of her at her job (granted, she has had some pretty cool jobs in the sports industry). She talks about where she’s moved, what she’s up to, and the most exciting things she has had a chance to work on. She doesn’t usually ask for anything specific, but if she is in job search mode, she might end her little story with a mention that she is excited to look for some new opportunities, with specifics about waht she’s looking for. I enjoy reading these e-news articles, because they remind me of my former student and her charming personality.

What strategies have worked for you to stay in touch with your contacts?

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