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Rebuilding Your Network After the Recession

I arrived at TheLadders to provide career-management advice at the beginning of September 2008, less than two weeks before Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection. One of the first news reports we created was titled "After the Meltdown: Is Your Network a Trap?" It dealt with the challenge senior professionals in finance and other disciplines face when their carefully constructed networks of business contacts suffer such widespread cuts that your former allies are suddenly competitors for a vastly reduced number of jobs.

Fast-forward a year and a half: We're still not out of the woods, but some sectors and functions are showing signs of life, and many of your downsized contacts may finally be getting back to full-time work. And other folks who'd hunkered down during tight times may now be considering a move-- including you. How do you mend the intervening rifts in your network?

In his column "Rebuilding Your Network," Darrell W. Gurney offers some tactical icebreakers to get past the potential awkwardness of reactivating a dormant contact. Among his suggestions:

1. Admit you lost touch: Don't gloss over the fact that you haven't been in contact; after all, communication is a two-way street, and people do tend to let contacts slide. Gurney recommends leading with an introduction like, "Gosh, it's been ages. I don't know if you're like me, but I get so busy with all that's going on with work and family that staying in touch with people that matter to me takes a back burner. It's not right, and I intend to correct that moving forward because, as we both know, relationships are everything."

2. Don't make it all about YOU: Sure, you're initiating the contact because you want to get your career moving. But make sure the conversation is an exchange, not just an appeal. Demonstrate interest in what your contact's been up to since you last spoke to create "relationship equity."

3. Have a research project: If you come straight at a long-lost connection with an appeal for a job, you're likely to strike out, to your mutual embarrassment. Like other networking experts, Gurney recommends you approach the call as an informational one first; think about something you can learn from the person at the other side of the line and engage on that basis first.

4. Wait to be asked: Anybody who's worth networking with knows the score, and blurting out a job request insults your contact's intelligence. Let your newly reinvigorated network connection make the first move on this front. If you handle steps 1 through 3 right, Gurney writes, the other person will probably ask you if you're in the market.

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