Ask Tami #9: How to Reach Out to Old Colleagues

Allison asks: What is the best way to get over the fear of reaching out to old colleagues, especially if you haven’t spoken in a long time?

Tami: The first thing I want you to think about is how you felt the last time someone reached out to you after a very long time. Assuming they were someone you were fond of, I bet you were delighted to hear from them!

Of course if someone reached out to you after many years and said, “Hey, I’m looking for a job. How can you help me?” you would probably be a lot less delighted. So, you are not going to do that.

I think part of the reason we all find networking so awkward is because we think of it as transactional. But the best networking isn’t about asking someone for something, it’s about gaining knowledge and building relationships. So here’s the email you are going to send:

“Hi there! Wow, it’s been awhile since we worked together at {place we worked}. I still often think fondly about that time we {whatever fun or interesting thing you remember}. I’m writing today because I’m gearing up to look for a new job. I’m considering a few different options and I’d love to share with you some of my ideas and get some advice. I’d also just love to catch up and hear how you are doing.”

Doesn’t that sound nice? Wouldn’t you be happy to get a note like that? And there’s not a lot of pressure — I’m just looking for advice. Most people are delighted to dispense advice. 

That’s the “how” and hopefully makes you a bit less fearful to reach out. But the only real way to get over your fear of reaching out is to accept the fact that some folks won’t respond, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s possible (though not super likely) that someone may react poorly. And that’s still okay! You can’t actually die of embarrassment. The good news is that if you reach out to a lot of people — using the method above — you will get some positive responses and have some really great conversations. Those positive interactions are the fuel you need to build momentum and widen your network. Make a goal to reach out to a certain number of former colleagues every week. Make it a habit and it will get easier and easier.

Good luck (and remember to keep going!),

Returning to the paid workforce can be both an exciting and daunting challenge. My work as Executive Director of Path Forward has given me a unique perspective on both sides of the employment equation. I’ve answered questions for thousands of job seekers and I understand their worries. And I have gained insights from HR and talent executives at the more than 75 companies we’ve partnered with. I’m eager to help you leverage this insider advice to help you get back to a fulfilling career. If you’ve got a burning question you’d like me to answer in an upcoming edition of “Ask Tami,” you can ask it using this form.