How to Reach Out to Old Colleagues

As you prepare to return to work, old professional colleagues can be a great source for support, networking, and advice. But if you’ve been on a career break for a while, you might have lost touch with many in your old professional network. And the more time that has passed since you’ve talked, the more apprehension you might be feeling about reaching back out.

First, think about how you felt the last time someone reached out to you after a very long time. Assuming they were someone you were fond of, you were probably delighted to hear from them! Of course, if someone reached out to you after many years and said, “Hey, I’m looking for a job. How can you help me?” you would probably be a lot less delighted.

Part of the reason networking can feel so awkward is because we think of it as transactional. But the best networking isn’t about asking someone for something, it’s about gaining knowledge and building relationships. So, rather than asking for a job or career advice right off the bat, here’s an example of an initial outreach email you can send to start the conversation:

“Hi there! Wow, it’s been awhile since we worked together at {place we worked}. I still often think fondly about that time we {whatever fun or interesting thing you remember}.

I’m writing today because I’m gearing up to look for a new job. I’m considering a few different options and I’d love to share with you some of my ideas and get some advice. I’d also just love to catch up and hear how you are doing.”

Doesn’t that sound nice? Wouldn’t you be happy to get a note like that? And there’s not a lot of pressure. You’re just looking for advice, which most people are happy to dispense.

Even with the best-written email, there is a chance that someone might not respond to you.  That’s okay. In fact, it’s possible (though not super likely) that someone may react poorly. And that’s okay, too! It might feel embarrassing at the moment, but job searching is all about putting  yourself out there – whether it’s to hiring managers or to your network.

The good news is that if you reach out to a lot of people, you will get some positive responses and have some really great conversations. Those positive interactions are the fuel you need to build momentum and widen your network.

Make a goal to reach out to a certain number of former colleagues every week. Make it a habit, and it will get easier and easier.

Written by Tami Forman, previous founding executive director of Path Forward. Tami is a frequent speaker on issues related to caregiving and workforce participation.

Originally published December 2020.