When it comes to networking, there are the “easy” people to stay in touch with. The old co-worker you still get monthly drinks with. The connections you see regularly at industry functions. Your first boss.
But I probably don’t have to tell you that the easy way out isn’t always the best.
Given the unpredictability of work (i.e., you never know when you’re going to need your connections the most) and of networking (think: the person you’re certain will open doors is on a month-long tour of Europe), staying in touch with a wide array of contacts is more important than you might think.
In other words, when you’re thinking about building and fostering your network, don’t simply reach out to the most obvious contacts. In particular, be sure to make time to connect with the three kinds of people below.
1. Someone Who Pushed You to Do Your Best
Whether it was a coach, a professor, or an interim supervisor, someone in your past pushed you—hard. This person always called you out for phoning it in and constantly made sure you were giving your all.
At first, you may be inclined to stay in touch only with those who thought you were amazing from the get-go. But think about it: The person who pushed you not only thought you were great—he or she saw that you had even more potential. And when it comes to future career opportunities? That’s definitely someone you want on your side.
So, how should you keep in touch? This person was pushing you to be your best, so a great time to reach out is when you’re killing it—when, say, you’ve earned a big promotion or received an award. Fill your contact in on your latest accomplishments, thank him or her for all the support over the years—and then ask for any advice on how you can continue to grow (because you know you’ll get it).
2. A Contact Who Offered to Put in a Good Word
Similarly, someone who has once put his or her neck out for you obviously knows your worth. He or she is in your corner (and, assuming you lived up to expectations, will likely recommend you again).
Now the key is realizing that there’s a difference between someone who gives you a strong reference when you ask for it—and someone who offers to put in a good word for you. The latter is the sort of person who will brainstorm with you when you’re in need of contacts in a new city or if you’re looking to change fields.
Whenever you find yourself in transition, this person should be one of your first calls. Tell him or her what you’re hoping to do, and then ask if he or she has any contacts or advice.
3. The Best Assistant (or Intern) Ever
You’ve probably heard you shouldn’t strictly network “up” (i.e., only with people in higher positions than you are). Because that person in a support role who knocked your socks off won’t be in a support role forever.
However, while networking should happen in all directions, unless there is a strong social component—e.g., you two used to hang out outside of work—reaching out to a former supervisor can feel like imposing. Meaning, someone who worked for you in a support role is unlikely to reach out to you unless he or she needs a reference.
So, as the former supervisor, you should take the lead in connecting with your former employee. Send a quick email or Facebook message to inquire how his new job is going, or bond over bumping into a colorful contact she’ll be sure to remember.
When thinking about who from your past you should reconnect with, don’t sell yourself short by only reaching out to former bosses. Think broadly about your past contacts, and use the tips above to expand your network.