Earn Job Hunting

How To Reach Out To People You Haven’t Spoken To In Years When You Need A Job—Without Looking Too Pleading, Desperate or Ungrateful

Kathryn Tuggle  |  February 19, 2019

You’ve built a great network, but how, exactly, do you go about using it?

Picture it: You find yourself in need a of job, ASAP. You check LinkedIn to find the smiling headshots of your 200+ connections staring back at you. The only problem? You haven’t talked to some of these people in years, maybe even a decade. Messaging them out of the blue with, “Hey, I need a job,” probably feels like a bad move, because it is a bad move. But that doesn’t mean those people are off-limits—they’re right where you need them to be.

When we take that first step to reach out to a contact we haven’t spoken to in years, it can be a very emotional experience, explains Fiona Bryan, career coach and founder of Ask A Career Expert. “We feel we’re imposing, but it’s a two-way value proposition.” In other words, you can do something for them just as easily as they can do something for you, and everyone likes to be owed a favor, says career adviser Allison Cheston. “Yes, you need a job, but that doesn’t mean you should feel embarrassed to reach out. This is how this whole networking thing is supposed to work. The people you’re reaching out to are actually going to be flattered that you came to them,” Cheston says. With that in mind, here’s how to rekindle relationships with your contacts and former colleagues to get those job leads rolling in.

Confidence Is Key

Whenever you get back in touch with someone, don’t apologize for not sending them a birthday card every year, Cheston says. Remember—you haven’t heard from them, either. This isn’t a competition as to who “owes” something to someone else. “This isn’t about what you’ve done for them in the past—this isn’t personal. There’s an understanding that you reach out to your network with work-related questions. If you’re not feeling confident, change your mindset and focus on what you bring to the table.”

Keep in mind that desperate people don’t get hired, Cheston warns. The worst thing you can do in your note is to come off as overly pleading. “Come at it with the idea that you have a lot to offer, and you’re going to be able to share your connections with the other person,” she says. Should you need a pep talk, ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” suggests Matt Schulz, chief industry analyst for CompareCards.com. “As the saying goes, fortune favors the bold. It’s like your mom and dad used to tell you, ‘It never hurts to ask.’ The worst thing that can happen is they say no,” he says.

The Right Words At The Right Time

Your messages should be savvy, and let the person know that you would like to reestablish your relationship, not just ask for a one-off opportunity. Here are a few suggestions for how to phrase your correspondence:

Be up front about the fact that you’ve lost touch. Say: “I feel bad we lost touch. Sarah was just talking about you the other day, and what you’re doing is so interesting! I wondered if you’d be able to spend a few minutes talking to me about this role that I saw listed the other day?” Or, try: “This may sound a little hollow since we haven’t seen each other in 10 years, but I so enjoyed working together, and I’d love to reconnect with you.”

Show a genuine interest in what the person has accomplished. Say: “I saw where you were interviewed in Inc. Magazine, and what you said about your company really resonated with me.” Or, try: “I went to your company’s new website, and I was so impressed by the impact you’re making, and all that you’ve accomplished since we last spoke.”

Find common ground. Say, “I noticed that you’ve been into yoga lately. I’ve been going to the new Core Power Yoga on Bryant Park, and it’s incredible. Would you be up for grabbing a class together sometime?” Or, try: “I don’t think I realized that you were part of the Rotary Club, too. How active are you? Perhaps I’ll see you at a meeting sometime.”

Be respectful of the person’s time. Say: “I know you’re super busy, but if you could make time for a call, I promise to keep it brief.” Or, try: “I was hoping you’d be willing to spend a few minutes talking with me about the company and whatever you know about the role. I promise to keep it brief and convenient for you—phone or in person, whichever you prefer.”

And offer to reciprocate, either immediately, or in the future. Say: “If I can ever be helpful to you, I would love to reciprocate. Just let me know what I can do. Or, try: “Feel free to check out my network; I’d love help make an introduction for you.”

No Matter How You Phrase It, Keep It Brief

Your first message should be very short. If you make it too long, people will feel that it’s too much and they may be overwhelmed and not know how to respond, Bryan says. A note that’s four or five sentences is perfect. And don’t get discouraged if you don’t hear back immediately. People are busy. Sometimes you won’t get a response for a while, or at all. That’s OK, Cheston says. You shouldn’t expect every single person you contact to reach out immediately with a job offer. With that said, it’s OK to follow up with the person after three to four weeks with a friendly reminder note. And “friendly” is the key word here—the worst thing you can do is sound demanding, asking “Why haven’t you responded to my last note?” or “Did you get my message?” Instead, check in with something like, “Hey Anna, just wanted to check in on your availability. I would love to chat whenever you have time. Thanks so much.”

Let This Experience Inspire You

Finally, if you take nothing else away from this situation, it’s that you should become a better, more active networker. You don’t want to find yourself in a position where you’re only reaching out to your contacts when you need a job. That’s going to get old quickly, and your contacts may get annoyed and stop responding to your messages.

In the future, when you see someone you know doing something good, take a moment to congratulate them. Compliment them on their promotion, their new baby, or anything else you see pop up in your feed. “Try to be that person who is a cheerleader for other people,” Cheston says. “People will remember that when you need something.”

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