For those who of you who know the old song mentioned in the subject line, my apologies.  You’ll probably now have that tune running through your head all day, as it is in mine.  But I couldn’t resist leading with it, since the “theme” that has been manifesting itself time and time again in my work over the past week is the importance of reconnecting with former colleagues and acquaintances.

For starters, while I’ll avoid naming names, I end up reconnecting with a former client of mine from the mid-nineties whom I literally haven’t seen or talked with since.  He had apparently spotted my name on LinkedIn and decided to reach out since, well, why not?  Sometimes “why not” is a perfectly good reason.  And while neither of obviously have made much of an effort over the years to keep in touch, it was like we had never missed a beat, and we had a really enjoyable and humorous coffee talking about all the crazy twists and turns our lives had gone through in the last 15 years.

On a separate note, I then had a current client (in need of a job) report that he had taken my advice to “get out of his shell” and start reconnecting with the many folks he’d met in his business dealings over the years.  While he was initially hesitant to do this, thinking these relationships were now defunct or that he’d be viewed as a shameless opportunist, I reassured him that anybody who truly felt that way would simply not respond — but that there would likely be many other people who remembered him fondly, were happy to rekindle the relationship, and who might be able to assist him in some way in terms of his current career situation.

People, in my experience, can be awfully forgiving when you approach them politely and ask for help, just as long as you don’t act entitled to it.  Or perhaps forgiveness isn’t even the right word, since as my wife often reminds me, your friends “have fingers, too” and could easily have called or stayed in touch over the years if they’d so desired.  Like you, they’ve also likely been carrying some residual guilt around, and now you’re giving them the chance to expunge it.

But back to my client’s story.  The results of his “relationship resuscitation” effort?  In his own words, he “sent out about 100 personalized e-mails to my closest former contacts and many of them triggered responses. In fact, one of them triggered a productive lead right away along the lines of ‘Great to hear from you — get your resume over to Jenny at XYZ Company immediately, since she needs someone like you!’.  I did that and have now had four interviews with the company since…”

Based on the success of this effort, he now says he has another 1,400 e-mails or so he plans to send out, hoping to spring some similar opportunities loose.  As I’d mentioned, he was a pretty connected guy back in the day.  And given that up until a few weeks ago he was dead-set against tapping into his former network at all to ask for help, I’d say he’s making damn good progress!

So the moral of these stories, and so many others I could share, is that job hunters often end up overlooking their single most valuable asset in finding a new opportunity — which is the relationships they’ve built over the years — often due to fears (e.g. I feel guilty, they’ll think I’m a slimeball, they probably can’t help in the first place…) that are understandable, but rarely grounded in reality.  Sure, if you plan to contact people to flash-raid their Rolodex, then promptly forget them again, you probably are a bit of a jerk.  But if like many people, your reasons for losing touch with folks were far more innocent and just came down to busy lives and changing jobs and such, it’s time to cut yourself some slack — and give your network a chance to come through for you.  Ultimately, you’re not “using” people if you’d be sincerely willing to help them, in return, were the tables reversed.

P.S. If this topic intrigues you, take a moment to read some additional articles I’ve written up here where people have discovered that relationships have a surprisingly long shelf-life, assuming they were “built properly” in the first place.

P.S. Another one of my favorite tools in this regard is the LinkedIn “People You May Know” page that helps you reconnect with people whom you might have crossed paths with previously.  While this page is almost impossible to find on the site itself, you can access it directly by clicking here, scrolling down and clicking the “Find More People You Know” link that comes up, then reviewing the bevy of familiar faces that should come up!