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Nuture Your Career Connections

By: Andrea Kay
Last updated 10/8/2013

Connecting with others is in our genes. And it’s probably how you found past jobs and discovered helpful information and other sources in your career. If you do it with care, it’s how you’ll find career positions in the future.

With so many people feeling swamped at work and overwhelmed with fear for their jobs, they forget this most basic principle of human nature: that we are built to connect with other people. And that people get something out of helping you, too.

Holistic physician and author Dr. Rick Kirschner says there’s “a reciprocal instinct that if we do for others, the more likely they will do for us.”

It’s like a “caveman version of ‘I scratch your back because I want you to scratch mine when I need it,’” explains psychotherapist Charles Allen.

It comes down to this: careers thrive on relationships with live humans. Those relationships require attention.

My Three Rules on How to Treat People You Connect with in Your Career

1. Properly thank anyone who has shared their time and expertise. It doesn’t matter if they were directly or indirectly involved in helping you get your new job. Whether they made a call on your behalf or sat down and met with you for two hours. Or chatted by phone or e-mail or offered tepid advice.

Minimally, everyone gets a thank-you email.

These people have invested their time in you. They are now part of your network. So when you get your new position, let them know how things turned out. Write them a personal note like this:

Dear Belinda,
I’m pleased to let you know that I have accepted the position of vice president of communications for the Baton Corporation, 3D Printer Manufacturing. The company converts digital files into three-dimensional objects and has incredible growth potential in health care, architecture, and other industries.

My responsibilities include the handling of daily communications with the media and the company’s growing customer base, and I am thrilled to be a part of this new endeavor.

Thank you so much for your support and encouragement while I was in the process of my job search. I especially appreciated your referral to Louis Lamotte, who helped me learn more about this growing industry.

I wish you much success in the upcoming year and look forward to keeping in contact. Please let me know if I can help you in any way.

Sincerely,

If you want to show your appreciation and be remembered forever by someone who was particularly generous and helpful, write and mail this person a note. Send a card. Send flowers, a gift card to Starbucks, a CD of their favorite music, or something else you know they’d like. Just thank them for being an incredible human being and helping you in your time of need.

2. Don’t wait until you need something to keep in contact. How rude is that? Very. I know you’re busy. So is everyone else. Keeping in contact with people needs to be part of your busyness. Not an afterthought or something you do when your career is in trouble. Or when you need a reference or some information.

This business of relationship building is not about scheming maneuvers and machinations the likes of those in spy novels to get people to share their list of contacts. It’s organic. It’s like planting a seed. You have to keep watering.

Which means picking up the phone every once in a while and checking in with people you know, like, and want to help in return. It won’t kill you to send an email or text or just to say “Hello, I was thinking of you.” Have lunch. Attend events that others invite you to that are near and dear to their hearts. Support them the way they’ve supported you.

3. Don’t expect people who don’t know you to drop everything to help you. Some might. Most won’t. But many will be more willing to connect if you’ve been referred by someone they know and trust.

Think about how it would be if you were in their shoes. You get an email from a stranger named Adele Simpson. She says, “Your cousin Manny Shepowitz suggested I call you . . .” You trust Manny. He wouldn’t sic anyone on you he didn’t like and trust. So odds are pretty good you’ll respond and set a time to talk to Adele. All because she was referred by your cousin Manny. It may take some time to get on your calendar. But now you’re open to it.

Just as we instinctively know we need each other to survive in life, we need each other to thrive in our careers. Do what comes naturally. And do it regularly.

Don’t:

  • Only contact people when you need something or your career is in trouble.
  • Expect people who don’t know you to help you.
  • Scan the room at social or business events or walk away in the middle of a conversation to approach someone else you think is a “hot prospect.”
  • Expect people to help you if you never do anything in return.
  • Forget to let your network of contacts know about your new job and to keep in contact.

Others will conclude: You don’t care about the relationship—only about what you can get from them.

Do:

  • Plant seeds and seek out others with no gain in mind.
  • Thank everyone who helps you—minimally by email.
  • Offer your assistance to others.

Finally, keep this in mind: A successful career is not about what you know or who you know. It’s about how you are.

© 2013 Andrea Kay. All rights reserved. Excerpted by permission of the publisher from This is How to Get Your Next Job: An Inside Look at What Employers Really Want, by Andrea Kay, published by AMACOM, a division of American Management Association.

Learn more about expanding your professional network in these AMA seminars:
Building Better Work Relationships: New Techniques for Results-Oriented Communication

Expanding Your Influence: Understanding the Psychology of Persuasion

About the Author(s)

Andrea Kay , a career consultant and syndicated columnist,  is the author of six books, including Life’s a Bitch and Then You Change Careers and This is How to Get Your Next Job: An Inside Look at What Employers Really Want, from which this article was excerpted. Her syndicated column “At Work” appears weekly in more than 80 newspapers.