What is Linkedin for? Finding a new job, right?
I used to think that, but I have been pondering Linkedin and decided that for the general technology worker it’s not just for finding jobs. You can use it to reconnect with former colleagues and bring them into YOUR workplace, you can use it for helping your friends and former co-workers by asking each other general or tech questions, you can reach out to acquaintances for exploring new business, side project, or startup ideas.
But no matter your use for Linkedin (indeed, for your general professional network no matter how you keep track of it), you should recognize that your professional network is made up of actual human beings who have their own personalities, wants and needs, desires and fears, agendas and goals. Actual human beings aren’t (and don’t like to be thought of as) cogs that you can use or discard at your convenience – hence the common disdain for recruiters who might treat them as such. (I do know good recruiters, honest!) So you have to maintain your relationships by spending the time, by reaching out to each person you know and relating to them as an individual, not as a cog in your professional networking machine.
So keeping in mind that we WANT to keep in touch with people on a professional level, and that we need to treat our professional peers with respect, this leads us to ask some questions: How often should you contact professional peers? How much time should you spend on these kinds of activities? I reached out to my professional network (!) to find out how people are maintaining their network these days.
Spend The Time
First and foremost: you need to spend the time. Sounds simple, but in practice of course we all have many competing interests vying for our time. So: how much time?
The higher up the corporate ladder your are, the more having a strong network is actually part of your job. Some higher level professionals spend up to 25% of their time on networking alone, and this is justifiable by the nature of their work. But even the average software engineer benefits from having a strong professional network, and should spend SOME time maintaining contact with other professionals outside of their daily workplace. Just 30 minutes every week could keep you in touch with a significant number of people, and this represents less than 1.25% of your work time. Sounds like a good use of your time if you put it that way!
Focus on Them
I’ll be frank: some software engineers (not you, of course!) don’t always have the best social skills. It might take some work meeting new people, or reaching out to people and maintain your relationships if you don’t have a pressing daily need to do so. So once you’ve found the time and are having a conversation or meeting for lunch: find commonalities, find the other person’s interests, and spend time there. Being interested in someone goes a long way to smoothing out your conversation. “Me” is usually peoples’ favorite topic 🙂 And if you find people too busy to meet for lunch or after work (especially upper level managers, directors, etc) a lot of people meet for breakfast. It’s an easy way to meet up without the overlapping meetings that so often occur over lunch and later in the day.
Yes, Recruiters Too
Recruiters are not former co-workers, they are not usually your friends. So it might sound odd to recommend spending time in keeping in touch with them. But one director I know keeps in touch with recruiters to build his reputation as a go-to guy. For linkedin, this could mean making quarterly connections with recruiters. The relationship of helping and the building of trust goes both ways: if you are happy to help them find the people they are looking for, they are happy to help you find the people you’re looking for. It’s good to be at the front of their minds when they see an engineer who’s an amazing fit for your organization, or an opportunity that’s an amazing fit for you.
But I Haven’t Talked With This Person For Five Years!
Sometimes we lose touch, it happens. If it’s been five years since you talked to someone, be up front that you’re working on networking and trying to keep in touch, and just have a conversation. Some people maybe don’t want to pick it up after that long, others might be intrigued by a blast from the past. Just don’t let it then go another five years!
Wrap It Up
This is all just my own musings about networking and linkedin and so forth, and notes from other conversations, not necessarily a final guide to all this.
What do you do to maintain your professional network? How often do you get in touch with people and how much time do you spend?