One mistake that many make is thinking that networking is only about making new relationships. Making new relationships is certainly important, but you also must maintain the network you’ve already established. So let’s say you’ve built up this nice network in the midst of your job search, getting your book published, etc. What typically happens next? If you’re like most people, you accomplish your goal and then you let your network go to pot. That’s network neglect.
Remember, these people were the people who tried helping you get to where you wanted to be in the first place. More importantly, they’re genuinely good people, so find a way to check-in periodically and be helpful and responsive to them in the future. Far too many individuals only re-acquaint themselves with their network when they need something, typically another job. At that point, their dusty old cobwebbed network may not be as responsive as it used to be. Yes, DC is a busy town and some people are too busy to make the time for close friendships, but pop in and say hello every now and then to your network.
Unfortunately common courtesy is far too uncommon these days. The most common networking neglect no-nos:
Not-working neglect #1: Not updating your network about your status
I’ve already encouraged you to keep your network informed with an Every Other Friday Email (EOFE), but I’m always surprised with how often job hunters don’t inform their network once they’ve found a job. 9 out of 10 resume forwarders agree that this is the most irritating form of network neglect. There’s nothing like discovering from a third party that a candidate’s resume that you’ve been forwarding around for the last two weeks has been in his new job for the last three weeks. This demonstrates awful follow-thru, a lack of manners and a lack of appreciation to your network. You need to inform your network once you’ve found work. Far too many people blow off their network once they’ve found their job. Besides being rude, it’s a very good way to not get their help in the future.
Not-working neglect #2: The predictable “by the way” email from a long, long lost friend
This is one of the most common forms of network neglect, word for word. I’ll just give you a sample, but they all more or less begin the same way: “Hey, how’s it going? Hope you are well. By the way, I’m interested in applying for a position at _____. Do you happen to know _____?.”
Wait a sec! When was the last time I heard from this guy? Oh yeah, two years ago…the last time he was job searching! Now don’t get me wrong—I don’t expect to be best buddies with everyone who’s looking for a little help and I’m happy to provide what I can, but once you’ve been placed in a job, send me a link to an article you’ve published, ask me if my Yankees have ditched that worthless A-Rod, or find some other excuse to occasionally keep in touch, but please find an alternative to the “by the way” email. It’s become a bit trite. And it makes me feel used. And trust me, it makes the rest of your network feel the same way, too.
Not-working neglect #3: Making it difficult for your network to reach you
If you’re in the middle of a job search and you can’t be bothered to empty your voice mail box or don’t check your email every day, you’re neglecting your network. Your network is likely busy and you’re making it difficult for them to track you down when you don’t check your messages or take several days to respond to their emails. (Not to mention that prospective employers may be trying to contact you, too!) Opportunities can vanish very quickly. When you’re networking with a specific goal in mind, you can’t take a vacation from communication. Be proactive and responsive!
Not-working neglect #4: Return the favor
You may not believe it, but the people helping you out in the beginning of your career may need a little help one day. Remember to take care of the people who helped you out and be proactive about it. Furthermore, once you’re established in a job for a few months, guess what? People are going to be contacting you, asking little old you for job help! Anyone who’s been in a job for at least a few months in DC is going to start getting requests from alums, interns, other job seekers, etc. Return the favor! It amazes me when I hear stories about people who refuse to talk to job seekers, meet with alums, etc. Yes, schedules get busy in this town, but always agree to share advice, leads, etc. with people who request it. Don’t be a snob, especially if people have helped you out in the past. When people ask for help, help them. If you’re too busy with a deadline driven project, explain the situation and ask them if you can put off the conversation for a week, but still agree to meet with them. Not returning the favor is bad form and bad karma.
Not-working neglect #5: Failing to say “thank you”
If someone assists you by sharing their time and provides cover letter and resume advice, contacts, job leads, or goes out of their way to be helpful to you, you need to acknowledge it with a thank you note. This doesn’t need to be a formal typed letter popped into the mail (although there’s no objection to that either). A simple gracious few sentence email thanking them for sharing their time and letting them know you’ll keep in touch will suffice.
Don’t underestimate the power of the words thank you. They’re not said enough anymore and as a result, they’re more meaningful and powerful words than they used to be.
Allow me to go on a tangent…In addition to thanking a prospective employer post-interview, I suggest all job hunters thank the employers post-rejection, too. Yes, send a thank you note to the prospective employer who rejected you, thanking them for taking the time to interview you, expressing your polite disappointment in hearing you weren’t selected, and asking them to keep your resume on file should other opportunities arise in the near future. How gracious is that? Very. And it’ll be very memorable, too. In fact, don’t be surprised if that office forwards your resume to other offices.
But more importantly, what you may not realize is that often in the interview process, Candidate #2 was barely edged out by Candidate #1. Basically, Candidate #2 was second choice, but by just a smidge. Often times, #1 doesn’t accept the job like the employer anticipated or backs out of the offer at the last minute or is a really bad fit for the office and only stays for a few weeks. Well, by Candidate #2 graciously sending out a “thank you for rejecting me email,” they’ve remained memorable and the employer can very easily approach #2 with minimal egg on his face and offer the job to #2 who he should have offered it to in the first place.
Remember…Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Don’t forget it.
Next week: How I should have started this series, but intentionally didn’t.
Peter Redpath is Vice President and Director of the Student Division at the Federalist Society. This is the ninth reprint in a series, based on his remarks at the AFF Networking Lunch in November 2012.