The Top 3 Ways to Maintain Your Professional Relationships

Posted May 17 2013 - 12:00am
Tagged With: networking

Did you hit it off with a professor, boss or professional this year? Congrats! That means you’ve already made the first step towards developing a professional relationship that will help you in the future. Now, the next (and most important) step is maintaining those relationships—ones you formed with professors, an internship supervisor, the other interns in the office, professionals you met at a conference. You should never underestimate the importance of staying in touch with these people, because you never know where your connection will lead you in the future. The easiest way to make sure these new connections don’t forget about you after the semester is over is to simply keep in touch. Keeping in touch isn’t hard—ask anybody who uses email or social media. That’s the whole point of these tools of communication! As long as you know which communication tools to use and how to use them appropriately, you’ll be golden. Here are the top three ways to keep in touch:

Communication Tool #1: Email

Email is the most efficient way to stay in touch with people; these days, busy lifestyles mean less time to sit down for casual chats. Sending a quick email to touch base, ask for advice, or mention a relevant article is all it takes. The key is not to turn these emails into essays; mention briefly what you’re up to, but keep it short and sweet.

In regards to asking for advice, professionals, supervisors, and professors are willing to help, but don’t go overboard. Ask advisors about internship and job opportunities, ask internship supervisors (or co-workers) what they found helped them get where they are today, ask professors for advice on which classes to take. Chances are, they’ll appreciate that you trust and respect their opinion. Be sure to keep your email to one or two questions, maximum. Brittany James, account executive at Hunter Public Relations, warns that any more than that, and you can easily go from enthusiastic to annoying. James says that even though she knows that more questions usually means more curiosity and interest, “everyone is just so busy these days.”

Sending relevant articles to a previous employer is a great way to stay in touch, too. These can be interesting articles about the industry you worked in or a client the company has—articles that show that you’re still involved in industry on-goings and interested in how the company is doing. The same goes for professors; realizing that students were listening in class and are able to relate the real world back to their course material reinforces you as a dedicated student in their mind.

To reiterate: don’t go overboard. James agrees that you should find a balance between too much and too little. “Depending on your relationship, every once in a while,” James suggests. “I have a former intern supervisor that I talk to all the time.” Such emails came from James’s Gmail account, not her work account—another piece of information to keep in mind. Sending emails from your personal account (not your college email address) gives professionals a way to contact you once your college email expires.

Communications Tool #2: Social Media (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter)

Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook also help students and professionals stay in touch, but can be controversialSome professors may see your friend request as a bit too personal, and that’s a line you don’t want to cross. While you may have hit it off at work, it’s not the best idea to friend professors or internship supervisors/bosses. “As long as you trust someone, I don’t see any harm,” according to James. However, if you have to second-guess whether or not it’s okay to friend them, it’s better off not to.

Joseph Catrino, assistant dean of career services at Quinnipiac University, advocates using social media to share updates between students and professionals. “Social media has provided the greatest opportunity to engage in networking,” Catrino says. “I typically keep in touch with students after graduation through email and LinkedIn.”

LinkedIn can be tricky, since you have the option to add someone as a “Friend,” “Colleague,” “We’ve Done Business Together,” etc. Regardless of what you add someone as, use the personal message box to your advantage. This way, you can connect with an internship supervisor without having to hum and haw over the “How do you know…?” question.

Even better, LinkedIn offers categories for “Groups” and “Companies” as a way to find and connect further with people you’ve worked with. Dean Catrino encourages his students to be fully engaged in LinkedIn, since connecting with previous supervisors, bosses, or mentors provides a simple and easy way to touch base, share updates, and even help your peers in the future. When one of his students finally “linked in” her internship supervisor, she was able to help another student seeking an internship in the same field connect with the supervisor as well—which resulted in an internship for her peer! Make a point to connect with professionals on LinkedIn and use the “company” category to your advantage. Sometimes, it really does go to show it’s about who you know!
 

Communication Tool #3: Face Time (No, Not iPhone Style)

If possible, visit your contact face-to-face. Dropping by on a whim just to say “hi” won’t be effective since professionals in the working world are extremely busy. Instead, reach out through email to suggest catching up over a lunch or coffee. Have an interview in the city and know an alum from your school or former co-worker in the area? Shoot them an email asking if they’re free that day and can grab a quick bite to eat; don’t be offended if they say they’re too busy, and ask for a good restaurant suggestion instead of not responding and letting the connection fade.

Keep in mind that you should suggest these get-togethers at least a week in advance. This time frame gives professionals or professors time to see the email, respond, and mark their calendars. Less than a week isn’t enough time, and two weeks is too much time for their schedules to fill up and take priority. Going this extra mile to arrange a meeting will pay off in the end!

“I was almost too nervous to get in touch with an alumnus I met at an event last year, but I changed my mind last minute,” Kelley Sullivan, a senior at Marist College, admits. “I had an interview in the city and it turns out she was more than thrilled to let me come by, tour the office, and gave me great advice for my interview. It must have helped, because I ended up getting the position!”

Kelley’s visit didn’t last more than 30 minutes—and that’s including her hike up to the 40th floor of the building! Keeping it short and sweet gave Kelley time to catch up, learn more about the alumnus’s job, and get some tips regarding her interview. “I asked her what I should be prepared for, and she told me to make sure I had questions for the interviewer. Having questions showed my interest in the company, which definitely made it clear I was serious about the position.”

Remember that if you establish these connections and don’t follow up, it’s going to be harder and more awkward to re-establish the connection in the future. These connections can provide letters of recommendation, lead to your next internship, or help secure a job in the future. It’s never too early to start making these connections and you never know where they’ll take you. Not keeping in touch with one person now runs the risk of missing out on other possible, stronger connections. Remember that most professionals have been in your situation before and know what you’re going through. You formed a connection for a reason, and whether dealing with classes, internships, graduation, or jobs, they want to help you just as much as you want their help.
 

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