By Ruth K. Robbins, GetFive Certified Coach

In creating a circle of professional contacts, mentors and champions, the goal is to always focus on the long term. It won’t happen for every outreach you make (whether by LinkedIn, industry association event, formal informational meeting, or direct contact methods), but cultivating a strong ongoing inner circle of professional ‘friendships’ with people with whom you resonate and connect –that truly is the definition of networking.

And that takes a little bit of work (but once you get systematic, not that much). The key is to enjoy and respect the person you are networking with, which will make it easier for you to keep the connection going.

In keeping with the season of Autumn, you should plant the seed, water the plant and seek to harvest those relationships for the longer run.

Set up a running spreadsheet of every person you meet whether you are in serious job search mode, exploring new possibilities or happily working. (Remember young Bill Clinton’s note cards for every person he met on his way up the ladder?) As soon as you finish a key meeting with someone, schedule and plan when and how you will try to re-connect with that person. Pay special attention to outreach opportunities that might present themselves in the near future such as seasonal junctures, holidays and professional events.

Then, as timely and appropriate as possible, bestow holiday greetings for good health and success—and let the person know that you look forward to staying in touch. Research and forward internet articles of interest, write a quarterly or bi-annual blog to your network of contacts, join Constant Contact and send on your best thoughts and most innovative ideas about your profession or industry through a tailored e-newsletter, invite a new valued colleague into an online group and provide progress updates on your job search for someone who was kind enough to help you.

Ask the person to take a quick gander at your LinkedIn profile and make it super easy for them with a hyperlink. You might say… “I so value your insight and knowledge of our industry and I loved meeting with you last quarter.   If you have a second to look at my profile, I would appreciate your quick feedback.” Yes, they might be too busy to respond, but at least you will have given someone the respect and acknowledgement that their opinion and feedback are of special value to you.

Thank them and thank them again; you might reciprocate with an article or book recommendation of your own. And depending on the industry culture and your personal style and if the help provided was over and above invaluable, online gift cards could be sent straight to that individual. With a short ‘thanks for your help’. Nothing more. Unexpected generous gestures can go a long way. At worst, your contact will thank you and say ‘really you shouldn’t have.’

Brevity is sometimes the soul of wit and the heart of wisdom. You can always contact someone at a later date, so keep a thank you a THANK YOU without the hint of alternate agenda.

And when you do land and are on the job, send a brief announcement to everyone who helped you along the way with a note of appreciation. Always say, “I hope we can stay in touch”…. because a felicitous job placement is NOT the end of the relationship.

Harvest your contacts not only in the Fall, but cyclically and consistently throughout the year.

Ruth K. Robbins, has been a Certified GetFive since the GetFive’s inception, coached at Columbia Business School in their graduate program and has been in private practice since 1992.

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