How to cultivate your rolodex without overtilling?
September 12, 2011 2:35 PM   Subscribe

What, if anything, do you do to keep in touch with old contacts when you don't really have any reason (providing or asking for a reference, answering questions, etc.) to speak with them?

I am once again in the process of looking up old contacts and am somewhat anxious about asking for references from professors (yes, I know, it's part of their job) as, having been in the workforce for many years, I'm not sure they remember me very well by now. (And I have a work reference, but need an academic one as well.) I did drop one favourite undergraduate professor a note when I noticed he'd moved to a different university a few years ago, but I always feel odd contacting someone that I haven't had reason to contact in years. I'm not in the same geographical location as any of the universities I attended, so I don't "run into" these people at events or anything like that. Should I be pursuing some kind of semi-regular contact or it is fine to be asked for a reference from students and/or employees after years of no contact?
posted by Kurichina to Work & Money (12 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Back in the day, I used to keep up my contacts by sending cards around holiday time. I no longer send cards (long story), but now I keep up with folks via facebook and linkedin.
posted by blurker at 2:42 PM on September 12, 2011

I can't tell you how to keep in contact, but when asking for letters of reference from professors I have typically included a reminder of what classes I took with them, my grades in those classes, and a paper that I wrote for them and did well on. In one case I included a picture because the professor was notoriously bad with names but would definitely recognize me by sight.

I've always had good responses to this level of information.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:43 PM on September 12, 2011 [7 favorites]

Facebook and/or LinkedIn. They'll see your name pop up occasionally, without requiring a conversation.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:45 PM on September 12, 2011

I agree with the facebook suggestion. Even a small comment here and there goes a long way.
posted by Sassyfras at 2:46 PM on September 12, 2011

Should I be pursuing some kind of semi-regular contact or it is fine to be asked for a reference from students and/or employees after years of no contact?

It is totally fine. There is no need to have "semi-regular contact" or "run into" them in order to prepare for making the request. Of course, you should give whatever information might be useful to jog their memory; that's always true when asking for references/recommendations.

Remember, you're not asking for some random personal favor. Serving as references and giving recommendations for former students/employees is their job.
posted by John Cohen at 2:47 PM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

I agree that it is their responsibility to provide a reference, but be aware that the more useful info you can provide will assist them in writing the best reference possible. I would add that you need to make it very clear in what format they need to submit the reference (on headed paper? via email? through a direct link that will be sent to their inbox?). Be especially wary of institutions that send automated reference requests as these often end up in email junkboxes.

I had to do this when applying to grad school a few years after finishing undergrad. Once I'd established the reconnection through email, I sent my referees the addresses and deadlines for each institution I was applying to, along with my CV and personal statement.

Naturally, whether you are successful or not, follow-up with a gracious thank-you note.

For future contact I'd recommend LinkedIn, but don't seek them out on Facebook - IMHO that's too informal.
posted by dumdidumdum at 2:58 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your professors, former employer and other people who you may want references from may not want to enjoy your facebook antics, and may not want to sign up for social media. Young Rope-rider's advice is on target.
posted by theora55 at 3:13 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

LinkedIn is a better idea for this sort of thing than Facebook. Relevant blog and Twitter content can be fed into it, and you can link a portfolio site.
posted by jgirl at 3:35 PM on September 12, 2011

I work in media, and no one==and I mean NO ONE--escapes my virtual rolodex. I keep up with all sorts of people on, FB, Twitter, emails, LinkedIn, and various professional groups. I understand this is not the norm, but it works for me. If someone needs to talk to someone at Rand or NSA or the Guthrie or Disneyland--I've got a contact. And I'm scrupulous about noticing promotions, transfers, and other milestones.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:36 PM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:46 AM on September 13, 2011

When I run across an interesting article, sometimes I send a link to a few old colleagues or acquaintances that it reminds me of. "This reminded me of you because [legitimate reason]" never goes awry.
posted by brainwane at 6:27 AM on September 13, 2011

"I hear you are presenting about $topic at $Conference. I am attending/would really like to go but [other responsibilities]. I took your Blah class in 2003 and since then I've used what I've learned in Job. Since college, I got married [my name used to be Smith]/had kids/took up scuba diving; here's a picture of me and kids/spouse/a shark." (The picture is in case they don't remember you by name.)

Another strategy - "I saw your paper in $Journal and was interested in knowing more about your theory on X. I took your Blah class..."
posted by desjardins at 9:46 AM on September 13, 2011

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