The Care and Maintenance of Professional Contacts

How to Maintain Professional Contacts | CorporetteHow do you maintain professional contacts on a regular basis?  You don’t want to be the junior person who only reaches out when you need something, and you don’t want to be the person who constantly pesters your mentors and contacts with questions — but where is the middle ground?  Reader K wonders:

Curious what your advice is on maintaining professional contacts. I realized recently I only reach out to people when I need something, and this feels a little … awkward? Like, “Hi, we haven’t spoken for ages, I’m now two jobs removed from when we worked together, but can you help me out with this thing?”

Great question! We’ve talked about how to network when you’re junior and how to network in general, but not in a while. For my $.02:

  • In general, look for opportunities to help your contacts.  For example, if you see an article that they would find interesting but may not be something they’ve seen, consider passing it along with a brief note.
  • Keep up with breakfast or lunch at least once a year.  Ask questions about their path, their struggles, their biggest problem this year, etc.  Each time you see them, ask them who else you should be talking to for tips on advancing to where you want to go, as well as if they’ve found any great new resources for reading material or tips.  (Then: follow up!)
  • Remember what they tell you — don’t ask for the fifth time if your “mentor” has kids.  If you have to keep notes on colleagues (hey, some of us have a mind like a sieve), find a system that works for you.

Readers, how do you maintain professional contacts? What kind of questions do you ask; how often do you get together?  Those of you on the flip side of this (being sought as professional contacts), what lessons have you learned along the way?

(Pictured: Rolodex, originally uploaded to Flickr by renaissancechambara.)


  1. Kat, this is an incredibley important topic that all young lawyers (and business peeople) should understand and live by! Thank you for calling this issue to our attention.

    My dad taught me early to alway’s be nice to old bosses and others b/c you NEVER know when you will need them. He learned this in the Army. He was alway’s good to both his officer’s as well as the men that he commanded. (Now there are women in the Army, but I do NOT think back then there were). I learned to be nice and CULTIVATE both personal and professional contact’s, includeing peeople that I keep up with even if they NEVER can help me. I call them at least 1 times a year, usueally around the holiday’s when they are either home or relaxing by their pool’s if they are down South.

    Grandma Trudy told me to alway’s bring food and drink with me if I go to their house’s b/c they do NOT want to think of me as a moocher. I can’t tell you HOW MANY times Alan went to a party and brought nothing, and left nothing at a party other then mabye stuffing up their toilet if he had to go. He was NOTORIUS for useing other peeople’s toilets, and then walkeing away if the toilet did NOT flush after he used it. This hapened at least 3x that I can remember, 2x at my own house. Dad did NOT want Alan useing the toilet at my house after that. FOOEY!

    Sam had no probelems when he used Dad’s toilet, but Dad was worried. That is why Dad like’s Sam. After Alan, any guy who I date who does NOT cause problems with Dad’s toilet is a hero. That is sad. Anyway, Sam keep’s calling dad directly for advice on how to woo me. I wish he would NOT do that b/c it is NOT fair with dad pushing me to Sam and Sam pushing himself on me. I want a guy from the USA, even tho Sam is very wealthy. FOOEY!

  2. One of my former managers has what I feel is a GREAT system and one I hope to replicate some day. She keeps a list of the birthdays of everyone she has worked with. I left the company 5 years ago, and every year, she sends me a “Happy birthday! How are you doing?” note which opens up a quick catch up conversation.

    This might be better if you’re more senior (especially since it would be difficult to get your bosses’ birthdays), but I think it’s a pretty good “trick.”

    • I would be annoyed by getting a birthday message from a former co-worker I wasn’t close to.

      • Well, we were pretty close (she was my direct manager). I’m not saying you should do this for the guy that sits 3 cubes down from you that you talk to at the water cooler, but for the ones you actually want to keep in contact with, I think it’s a pretty non-awkward way to a “hey, what have you been up to?” conversation.

      • May I ask why? I get that it could be a bit weird coming from someone you don’t know very much (like, “thanks guy who sat near the microwave”), but I never mind getting b-day greetings from people I don’t otherwise keep in touch with. I think it’s kind of thoughtful.

        • I think in the case of someone I worked with only peripherally, it would be stalkerish. From a “work friend”, it would be appreciated.

    • Legally Brunette :

      Wow, that’s pretty impressive. I would be floored if a former colleague remembered my birthday and reached out (assuming we’re not FB friends).

  3. I agree with Kat’s first point. Try to find ways to help other people when you can by referring business, sending helpful information, etc. You won’t be able to do it for everyone obviously, but it doesn’t hurt.

    However, there are lots of psychological studies that actually show that a person who does a favor FOR YOU ends up liking you much more than if you did a favor for them. Sounds weird at first but it makes sense when you dig deaper. Asking someone to help you does a few things: (1) it shows that you think that they are valuable in that they are capable of helping you, (2) once they’ve helped you there’s a concept of “commitment consistency” – i.e., I’ve helped Mary, so I must like Mary, so I want Mary to do well (otherwise, why did I help?).

    When someone delivers on a favor I always try to follow up with a thoughtful way to say thanks. For example, an old boss of mine hooked me up with an interview after I met him for coffee to discuss trying to find a new job. He mentioned in passing that he had just had his money clip taken from him at the airport. After my interview, I sent him a thank you note along with a money clip with the logo from his alma mater.

    • This is a good idea as it shows that you appreciate their effort. That was a really good idea on sending the money clip – so much more personal than just an email or even a thank you letter.

  4. Threadjack, need advice!

    I just got back from an interview where I am 99% certain they’re about to offer me the job. I am pretty desperate to get out of my current job but I’m somewhat uneasy about the new position. I am anxious about the offer and hope they delay making it because I am up for another position at another organization I would much prefer, but they already told me they don’t plan to make an offer until the end of March. I know I can stall the first organization for a little, but probably not that long. Plus, I am going to feel awful if I don’t take the position since a good friend went to bat for me to get the position.

    What do I do?

    (I know, I know, don’t panic until the cards fall, but I am really anxious right now!)

    • Can you call the other place you’re interviewing and tell them that you have another offer and would like to move up your interview? If they make an offer, that is. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say, “you’re my first choice but I have to respond to X by Y date, so I am wondering if it would be possible to move up my interview date.”

      As for your friend, I wouldn’t worry about it. If it comes up, thank her sincerely for her help and just explain that you couldn’t pass up the other opportunity.

      • Thanks — I actually interviewed (second interview) yesterday for the position I am more interested in, but they said they were still in the process of doing both first and second interviews and were looking towards end of March to make an offer :-/

        • You can still do this. If you get an offer, just call them and say that, “I just wanted to let you know that I have an offer from another company. Obviously, you are my number one choice but I need to let other company know if I accept by X date.” If they’re interested in you, they may make an offer or if they know they’re not, they may just wish you the best.

          • +1. I think this kind of call/email is standard practice. They may end up telling you they haven’t made a decision yet, but it certainly won’t hurt your chances and they will understand why you are calling.

  5. I’m mid-career and really take time to nurture my network daily/weekly and it pays off. I found my current job – without job hunting – when a contact called me. I contact 1-3 people in my network each week. I’ll touch base with someone who is looking for a new job, send an interesting article or piece of news to another and have coffee or lunch with another. Just two weeks ago I sent a friend’s name to a recruiter (with her permission) and she let me know yesterday that she got the job and was so happy. I also attend monthly industry networking events.

    I remember birthdays for some but more imporant is remembering things like projects, vacations, job searches and kids’ names/ages.

    • You are amazing.

      I am unfortunately, your opposite. I have lost touch with all of my connections and now feel too uncomfortable to reach out again. Honestly, most wont remember who I am.


  6. AnonInfinity :

    Maybe I’m over-thinking it, but I always wonder about the advice to send someone an article. It usually seems forced to me, unless it’s just exactly the perfect article. For example, I wouldn’t send my friend who does trucking law just any ol’ article about trucking, but I have sent my mentor an article about a certain topic I knew he was preparing a presentation about.

    I will sometimes send an email that says something like, “Hey! We haven’t caught up in a while–What’s up with you?” But I usually only have felt comfortable sending these to people I knew fairly well. I try to have lunch or some other contact with my local network at least once every quarter or every six months.

    I struggle with how to keep up with my more distant network, though, especially people I meet at conferences, because I can’t just suggest lunch or happy hour. There are a few people I met at a recent conference that I really did like and really want to keep in touch with, but knowing them only superficially makes it hard to really keep up. Maybe the “Hey what’s up email” could work for those people too?

    • I agree on the article thing — it seems odd and forced to me unless the article is rare and spot on. I think this advice was more relevant in the pre-internet days, before anyone with google could pull up articles infinity and it took more effort to find on-point articles. The last thing I need is another article to read…

    • Wannabe Runner :

      You know, I’ve had luck with using my personal facebook for this. I am facebook friends with people I took a training class with a few years ago. I talk about my personal life, but I also mention from time to time my practice area, so people know who to call if they have legal needs I can help with.

      I also join other groups and attend other events where people are likely to be. Like if I met them at a training seminar on How to Build Bikes, I’ll go to the big bike race this weekend, or the building bikes event for charity next month. You’re likely to run into the same people, and check in with them there.

      It’s harder, but working your network by being in physical contact (face to face, shaking hands, etc.) is what is the most effective, IMO.

  7. Great topic! We’re big on marketing discussions in general. In fact, we have been working on a great practical marketing resource for a while which we hope to announce to our email community in the next few weeks actually!

    The tip on helping people is key and something we covered in the above resource with some tips on saving time doing so. Per our comment in our news summary last week: “On making an impression, offer to help that person in a real way – send them an article they would find interesting, invite them to an event, introduce them to someone they should know – versus going into sales mode too quickly. You may capture their attention (or score a follow up) beyond that elevator ride.”

  8. I just started my career but to keep in touch with my contacts, I usually send a note during the holidays at least. To be safe, I usually do it around New Years (in case they don’t celebrate Christmas, etc) with just a simple “Happy New Years” and well wishes for them, etc. With contacts I’m closer to (like colleagues from law school) I’ll send stuff when I find it interesting or helpful to them, like if I see an announcement of a conference happening in their area (geographic or field) that might be of interest to them.

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