Best Practices for Staying In Touch With Former Coworkers

You’ve left your job behind, but you’d like stay connected with your former coworkers. They might be willing to be a reference for your next job. They can help you build and maintain your professional network. You may even end up working together again—at their next company or maybe at a new venture together. You want to keep in touch, but how and how often?

keep in touch

To make it work, acknowledge that your relationships with coworkers will change once you or someone else leaves. Reevaluate these relationships based on your honest desire to remain in contact. Now it's time to determine how much and what kind of contact is genuinely appropriate going forward. Stay connected in the spirit of what will be mutually beneficial—not just “what’s in it for me.”

Don’t Be The Person Who Only Wants Favors

Don’t just reach out when you need help. We all know someone like that in our work and personal lives. This writer heard from someone like that within the last month. Don’t be that person.

“Don’t appear out of nowhere, after many years absence, asking for a favor,” says career and life coach Joanne Korman Goldman of JKG Coaching. “Don’t keep in touch only when you want something from them.”

Instead, work to maintain relationships over time for the good of all parties. “When people recognize you as someone who cares, they’re more likely to want to remain in touch, now or in the future,” Goldman says. “They’ll be more inclined to help you. That’s one of the basics in any ongoing relationship, no matter the frequency.”

No Mailing Lists Or Sales Solicitations

Don’t add your former work pals to mass mailing lists or solicitations—whether it’s a spammy email asking for job leads or selling candy for your child’s school. In fact, don’t add anyone to such a list without asking for permission first. “This can be highly offensive because it’s highly impersonal,” Goldman says. “It’s purely transactional, and disregards any relationship from the past.”

How Should You Keep In Touch?

Social media, such as LinkedIn, is an effective way to remain in touch with former coworkers, Goldman says. You can connect with people you knew well at former jobs, as well as those you hardly knew. It’s a great way to expand your network in a non-invasive way. Once connected, you’ll receive alerts and updates about former colleagues that make it easy to congratulate them on a work anniversary, new position, birthday, etc. You can follow their Twitter feed or comment on blogs or articles they’ve written as a way of supporting them in a relatively low-touch, yet authentic, manner. 

For more personalized, moderate to high-touch contact, email, phone and texting can work well. Be sure to have something pertinent to share, or the communication will feel contrived and inauthentic. Invite connections to meet up at an industry event or forward a link with something relevant about your former company, industry news or area of mutual interest.

How Often Should You Be In Touch?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer here. Light-touch contact, such as wishing a former coworker a happy work anniversary once a year or endorsing them for a skill they’ve mastered keeps you in touch with minimal effort and no perceived pushiness. If the person responds thanking you for your well wishes, sending you a message in return, or extending an invitation—that indicates a desire to keep the relationship alive, Goldman says. It holds the possibility of continued and higher connectivity in the future. 

Pay Attention To Cues

Take your cues from the other person. If your contact seems comfortable with a frequent back and forth, then go for it. If more involved contact doesn’t elicit a response, consider downgrading to light-touch contact going forward, Goldman says. If you don’t get a response right away, be patient. Don’t try to make the other person feel guilty for not responding based on your schedule or expectations. If the other person waits a few days to get back to you, don’t rush to respond to them within minutes. If she closes an email with "Have a great weekend," that shows she’s not expecting you to respond or follow up before Monday.

Letting Go

Be realistic about past work relationships and what kept you close. Sometimes, the wise move is to move on. Although the amount of time you spent working together forged a close relationship, that relationship may end permanently when you leave. “If you were in a position of influence or authority, coworkers may no longer see you as such, and not care to stay in touch,” Goldman says. In that case, look at your relationship as a moment in time to accomplish a goal or deal with a work environment instead of a long-term relationship that outlasts the job at hand.  

Don’t Take Lack Of Responsiveness Personally

People may not realize the value of ongoing relationships with former coworkers and drop the ball on cultivating past connections. While they’re pleased to hear from you, they haven’t developed the habit of remaining in touch. “As a career coach, I hear people lament all the time about not keeping up with their network of contacts, especially in initial stages of a job search.” Goldman says.

Give Back And Make A Difference

Consider the possibilities and benefits of doing something for a former colleague, whether it’s writing a recommendation, boosting visibility on social media or introducing a former coworker to their future employer. “Become that person who makes a difference in big and small ways,” Goldman says. “In doing so, you’ll impact the world.”

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