We've all heard that networking is one way to find out about job openings. And who are some of the best people to network with? Your former co-workers. Chances are they're working somewhere new and they've been adding to their own Rolodexes. They will know firsthand whether someone is hiring.
Employers are 10 times more likely to hire someone who has been referred than to bring on someone they don't know, said Kim Thompson, a career counselor with New Avenues in Houston. And a former co-worker would be in a good position to assess an applicant's abilities.
But to find out about those openings, you have to cultivate those contacts. The best way, of course, is when your former colleague picks up the phone and tells you about a job lead because when you had lunch last month you mentioned you were quietly on the market.
But if you're like most of us and haven't kept in touch, what do you do? Especially if you're out of work and need a new job.
People are embarrassed to call after a long absence, said Thompson. "What are you going to say? 'We haven't talked in 10 years. But I've been thinking a lot about you.' "
Most of the time, she suggested, the fear is a lot worse than reality. Most people want to help.
It's all in how you ask, said Jim Kollaer. The construction company consultant, who built up quite a Rolodex as the former longtime head of the Greater Houston Partnership, said he doesn't give a second thought to picking up the phone and calling a former colleague he hasn't talked to in years.
But he doesn't come right out and say what he's looking for. First he does a little catching up about what's new in each other's lives. It's only then that he makes his request, which may be information about a potential new client.
He said he often says something like "I know we haven't talked in awhile, but I really need your help on this." And nine times out of 10, the person on the other end is happy to lend a hand.
It's a little harder to do at the C-level (CEO, CFO, COO) because of the screeners who surround top executives, Kollaer said. And that's one good reason to continually update the private cellphone numbers and email addresses of people who might be hard to reach down the road.
Ways to stay in touch
Another way to avoid those awkward conversations is to vow to do better about keeping up with your old colleagues.
• One way is to get together occasionally for coffee or lunch, suggested Thompson, who also writes the Career Rescue blog for the Houston Chronicle.
• Use social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook to keep up with your former co-workers, advised Thompson. That's an easy way to stay in touch.
• When you see an interesting article someone might like to read, send it to them, she recommended.
• Another way to stay in touch is to attend the professional association meetings that every group — from accountants to zoologists — hosts, said Mark Sherman, associate professor of management at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. It's an efficient way to keep in touch with former colleagues, he said.