"ASK HR" is our advice column where we answer readers' questions about pressing work dilemmas, job search queries, resumes, and navigating Hollywood. If you have a career-related question, email us, and the answer could appear in a future newsletter! All submissions will remain anonymous.
Dear Hollywood Resumes,
How do you manage your network? I have a lot of contacts, but I'm not sure how to stay in touch with them. Is there a way to know whether someone's not responding to an email because it got buried or because they're annoyed by the outreach? I don't want to come off as a bother to them, nor do I want to waste my time chasing down a contact who isn't interested in a relationship...but I also don't want to fall off someone's radar entirely if they were just busy when I happened to reach out! How can I decide when to "let go?"
-- Persistent or Pesty?
Dear Persistent or Pesty,
There are a few ways to manage your network, like meeting contacts for drinks/coffee (in person or virtually) and sending check in emails from time to time, including around the holidays. Eventually, you amass different tiers of contacts -- close friends, people you work with regularly, and people you can reach out to a couple of times a year. You might find it helpful to track your contacts in a spreadsheet, especially if you're currently searching for a new job and planning to reach out with requests for referrals. This way, you can note who's responding, when, and what you discussed, and you can easily set reminders for yourself to get another date back on the books. It's also okay to let the relationships form and grow naturally and reach out to your contacts when there's a specific reason, like congratulating them on a promotion or because you really want to get together. It's impossible to maintain the perfect relationship with every single person you meet, so you'll have to find a balance.
When it comes to staying in touch, the best answer -- as unsatisfying as it may be -- is to use your gut. If someone hasn't responded to an email after one follow up, and they aren't someone you know very well, it's not worth being too persistent unless there's a very specific reason to reach out -- like you just applied to a job at their company, or you saw that their pilot got picked up to series. If the person not responding is someone you've met a few times in person or worked with directly, and you didn't do anything offensive to them, it's likely that they're just busy -- reach out again in a few weeks.
In general, with contacts you don't know too well or haven't been in touch with recently (think: someone you did an informational interview with 6 months ago, or an internship boss you haven't spoken to in a year), it's helpful to give context when you're reaching out, either by emailing on top of an existing thread and/or reminding the person who you are and how you know them, and then including a little sentiment about why you've decided to contact them. Is it to congratulate them on something? Ask for a favor? Check in because there's something exciting happening with you? You should be reaching out from time to time without a specific "ask," but it's always good to give the person something direct to respond to, like a question, kudos about a new project announcement, or a request to meet up. Simply asking, "What's new with you?" won't generate a lot of responses from casual contacts who are likely too busy to offer a rundown of their goings on to a virtual stranger.
Overall, your most useful contacts will be people who go from being "contacts" to people you have relationships with. It can be hard to make that transition, and don't expect it to happen with everyone you meet. Lean into the relationships you have with colleagues, people you've worked with on various projects, friends of friends, and anyone you've met that you had an easy time talking to. With time, you'll build a rapport with enough people, and as your career grows, you'll have a wider net of people you can reach out to with ease.
-- Angela & Cindy
One of the toughest aspects of networking is maintaining relationships. You can schedule all the informational interviews in the world to learn more about companies and roles you’re interested in and follow up accordingly with a thank you note and some check-ins. But let's be realistic -- with time, you’ll get busy and let a few of your contacts slip away. It may feel awkward to get back in touch after you've let communication lag, but if you handle your approach gracefully, it's actually not that a big of a deal to reconnect. Here's how to go about it:
As uncomfortable as this may seem, you're going to need to reintroduce yourself. Especially when it comes to informational interviews, you must remember that you are not the only person your contact has met with to conduct an informational interview. In fact, an informational is likely the least memorable meeting a person will have in a given day. So when you’re reaching back out to these contacts after a month or more has passed, you’ll need to help jog their memories a bit. One great way to do this is to reply to the original email chain from when you scheduled the meeting or sent a thank you note (this is the reason that an emailed thank you note is much more important than a handwritten one). If for some reason you have to start a new email chain, you should give the person a little recap of who you are. For example, “I’m the NYU student studying documentary film that you met with last July while I was interning at NBC.” It might sound weird to do this, but it helps the person on the other end by not forcing them to dig back through emails to figure out who you are.
Starting your email this way gives you the opportunity to transition into explaining what you're currently doing. "Since we last met, I've been working as a development assistant at Imagine Entertainment." You can share a tidbit or two about your current position -- something as simple as how much you've learned, or if you think they'll appreciate it, a little nugget about how something they mentioned back when you met helped you. Don't kiss up too much, but if there's something simple and true, it's worth sharing.
Then, you can get to the impetus for your outreach. It's probably best to avoid asking for a favor for yourself after too much time has passed (unless it's particularly timely, like their department is actively hiring for your dream job), but it's within bounds to ask on behalf of someone else -- passing along a friend's resume or trying to set up an informational for a colleague shows you're willing to pay it forward. You can also reach out when there's nothing you need -- just reconnecting for the sake of it, or because you read something interesting about your contact in the news.
Unfortunately, sometimes you will reach out and won't hear back. If this happens, try one more follow up, but don't take it personally. After the past year and a half, you have no idea what your contact may be going through. But most of the time, you'll get a quick message in return (at the very least), and you'll be back on an important person's radar. It's not ideal to lose touch, but life happens, and it's good to know there's a fail safe way to maintain your network when you get too busy.
--Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan