In every culture major holidays come once a year: Christmas; Diwali, Hanukkah (both celebrated as Festivals of Light); and Eid ul-Fitra or Muharram, among others. During these times people are in festive moods connecting with friends, celebrating, exchanging gifts, and making wishes to better themselves during the coming year.
Those in professional careers often need to further themselves by connecting with others and with especially those who have achieved some prestige and stature in their pursuits. In many cases a person you once knew well long time ago has now risen to some prominence in their profession, but you have now lost touch with them as you each pursued different paths.
Holidays are a great time to build new friendships and networks. They are also a good time and renew old acquaintances that are worth renewing. Recently, one of my clients lost his job after being in the same company for some 15 years. Prior to that he had worked at yet another company for almost that time and had many colleagues and bosses he knew, who had gone on in their own ways, with some becoming industry luminaries. During these intervening years my client had lost touch with them and was wondering if any of them could help him in his job search.
However, since he had lost touch with them for a long time (15-20 years) he was reluctant to approach them with his request for help in finding him suitable opportunities. Luckily for him his need for pursuing a new job came up in October of that year. So, we decided to make a list of all his past acquaintances, colleagues, and bosses and send them a personal message during the upcoming Holiday season, immediately after Thanksgiving (US) that year.
Once we decided to make a list of all the people he knew throughout the two stints during the past 20-30 years, my client was surprised that this list grew to more than 400. After the list was compiled we decided to break it down into three levels: A (those he knew really well), B (those with whom he had worked now and then), and C (people he had come in contact with and there was some reason why they would still remember him).
For each category of his past connections we drafted a personal message, updating them on my client’s current status and wishing them a Happy Holiday Season.
We emailed those 410 messages during Thanksgiving and Christmas that season. Because so much time had elapsed and because he was no longer working my client was not expecting most people to respond to his message. Although he did not ask for help in job search in his message, he did disclose that he was now searching for new opportunities as a result of recent merger of his employer with a large company.
To my client’s surprise within about three weeks of sending the Holiday message 378 people responded to him, many expressing their delight that he had re-connected with them and at knowing about his personal and professional journey during those intervening years. Although not everyone offered their help in his job search (he did not request it), many asked him to contact them for some leads and with some information about where he could pursue his next gig. Some had other suggestions about his next career move.
Soon after the holidays that year my client used one of those leads and got hooked up with a Private Equity partner and got a consulting gig that continued off and on for several years. This gig also gave him a new path to pursue without committing for a job, but in taking on juicy assignments that intrigued him. So, this simple initiative to re-connect with the past acquaintances at the right time of the year helped my client through his anxious job transition.
So, what is the best way to expand your network and seek the right help you need to move forward in your career? Here are some suggestions:
1. Make a list of your past acquaintances and break it down into A, B, and C categories. This breakdown will help you frame the right message for each category of people with whom you want to reconnect.
2. Develop an appropriate message for each category and find a suitable graphic design to use for sending that message. Each salutation must be personal, so use an Excel spreadsheet to create your file that contains the A, B, C list.
3. In your message do not ask for anything in return (“I am desperately looking for another job and your help would be invaluable,” would be inappropriate). The suggestion that flows from your message may be enough for most people to reach out to you in a helpful way. If they do not offer any help but respond back to you, use that response to stay in touch in the future.
4. The holiday period is also a good time to make new personal connections. If you go to parties or events that happen during the holiday season make sure that you are open to new introductions. Here, too, do not disclose your job situation if you are out of work. If you connect with someone and think that they may be able to help you in your search make that request off-line after your introduction and after you establish some connection with them.
5. If you don’t get invited to parties, throw your own and invite some friends and ask them to bring their friends to the event. The friends you invited will soon invite you to their parties, in turn.
There is something about the holiday season that makes people want to help others. Knowing this may help you build a new network to advance your professional goals.