How often have you told your former work friends that you’ll stay in touch, only to find that three years have gone by, and you have no idea what they’re up to? Probably quite a bit—which can make asking them for something seem awkward.
You don’t want to make them think that you’re only in it for number one, and you want to come across as sincere. But reaching out to someone you haven’t talked to in years still might feel uncomfortable because there is a connection you’d like an introduction to, or there’s some knowledge that they have that you want. And while it’s entirely reasonable to think that you should just avoid the whole thing altogether, here are a few reasons why it’s totally OK to email that person.
1. You Lost Touch, But You Didn’t Burn a Bridge
There’s a huge difference between falling out of touch with someone and burning the bridge down in an inferno-like rage of emotions.
If you’ve just forgotten to check in with someone over an extended period, that’s more typical than you think. Life happens, people move, and suddenly that work spouse you swore would be in your wedding party doesn’t even pop up on your Facebook feed anymore.
But when you want to ask that person for a favor down the road, I doubt that he or she will read your email and think, “What a jerk. He didn’t even check in to see how I was doing after I got my cavity filled the other day.”
If you’re still feeling uneasy about asking, keep things simple when you reach out. Start by acknowledging that you wish you had kept in touch more, and then get right to your request. The odds are that the person will be happy to hear from you, so things will only get awkward if you make them uncomfortable.
2. People Are More Willing to Give Career Advice Than You Think
Even if it’s been years since you talked to someone you promised to stay in touch with, I bet there’s one thing you always forget about why you got along with that person so well in the first place. The chances are that your long-lost work friend is empathetic about the challenges you’re facing in your career. And while it might have been a while since that person even thought about what you’re up to, an email out of the blue will likely make her say, “Oh, wow! I hope she’s OK.”
And if you have a specific request, your former friend will do what she can to help—even if that means telling you she doesn’t know how to help you. In fact, this happened to me recently. I received an email from someone I used to commiserate with over college football at work—and I was thrilled to hear from him, even though I couldn’t do anything for him at the moment. Unless the people you were friendly with at work turned out to be complete jerks, more often than not, this will be the case for you as well.
3. You Have Nothing to Lose
Sure, even when you write the best networking email you’ve ever written, there will be times that won’t get a response. Maybe he has a critical project to work on, or maybe your message just fell through the cracks. There are a million reasons why someone might not get back to you, but here’s the thing: You have nothing to lose by sending the email, even if you’re asking for something that feels inconvenient.
Again, unless that person’s transformed into the meanest person on the planet since the last time you spoke, there’s no reason to brace yourself for a nasty response. The worst thing that might happen is a bit of radio silence. And while that might be hard to digest at first, you’ll get over it sooner than you think. Even better, you’ll have a better idea of who you should count on for help when you’re in the middle of a job search going forward.
Emails to people you haven’t spoken to in a while are never fun to write. You’re always going to feel guilty for asking someone you haven’t kept up with to lend a helping hand. But the thing is that not only will most people be willing to help, but they’ll also be excited to catch up with you. So don’t be afraid to put together a thoughtful email when you want to ask those former friends for a favor, and get ready to do some serious talking about what you’ve been up to for all these years.
Photo of man emailing courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.More from this Author