Keeping your professional network contacts when you change jobs is always a challenge, and it is even more complicated now that most of us are networking through social media. Before the internet era, people had address books filled with their business contacts and they were able to use those contacts wherever they went. In fact, competitors would often try to woo executives, knowing that they would be bringing their contacts along with them. It was a key strategy for building business, and still is.
Now that most business contacts are stored online, it is easier than ever to connect with others and build a large group of professional contact. The problem with this is, do the contacts belong to you? In many cases, the answer is a resounding “No”. Many employees have been finding themselves in a situation where they have been encouraged by their employers to create social networking profiles, have spent time both at the office and at home connecting with others in their field and have cultivated a strong group of business contacts. When they leave the company, either by choice or not, the employer asks for the passwords to these accounts, claiming that they belong to the company. And, when the employee balks at this, they are directed to look at the corporate policy regarding intellectual property. There have even been cases where a departing employee has tried to sue the company for the accounts back, and have lost.
Don't let this happen to you. Even if you don't have plans to change employers, you never know if one day you are going to end up being let go without notice, and then having to start over from scratch, rebuilding your contacts. This can make your new job search much more difficult and also will make you start a new position from the ground up.
Here are 5 tips to help you keep your contacts:
Check you corporate policy- Each company has different policy regarding intellectual property, electronic communications and internet usage. Find out is your company considers anything you do, theirs. You may find that the policy is much stricter than you thought. In fact, some employers are trying to find legal ways to prevent staff from making lists of contacts in order to take with them if they leave. Even writing down phone numbers in a notebook could be violating this policy and could spell legal trouble for you if you were to leave. So get informed. You can also take a look at former coworkers, see what happened when they left, were they able to take their accounts with them? Is this the same for those who leave vs. those who were fired?
Set up new profiles- This one is tricky, but it is a good idea to set up a personal profile on each networking site that you have a business profile. The tricky part is that you have to be sure to keep them entirely separate. You have to use an email address that is strictly for personal use. It may be a good idea to create a new email for just this use. Make it clear in your profiles that this is your personal account by not listing your employer in any way and never accessing it at work.
Facebook is always safe- Because Facebook isn't a business tool, even though many people use it as such, it is considered personal and doesn't belong to your company. Consider asking your most important contacts to add you on Facebook so that you can be sure that you won't lose their contact information. Many people have an account for business and another one for friends and family. If you do this, be sure to check your privacy settings, and no matter how tempted you may be, don't mix business with personal.
Keep your email separate- It is a good idea to have a personal email that you use for everything except business correspondence. This way, if you were to lose your work email account unexpectedly, you wouldn't lose the email addresses of your friends and family. Keep the employer provided email account just for work related matters, so that losing access to the account will have minimal impact.
Keep business cards- When a business contact gives you their business card, keep it in an address book or card case. If you need to, copy the information from the card into your work address book, but keep the card in your own personal card case. At home, you can use a Rolodex or other business card organizing system ensuring that you will continue to have access to them.
The bottom line is that it is a new world we are in, and data is easy for companies to claim as their own. You don't want to find yourself without a way to get in touch with your professional network. The saying “it's not what you know but who you know” can be very true. Don't let a lack of preparation leave you backed into a corner.
By Melissa Kennedy- Melissa is a 9 year blog veteran and a freelance writer, along with helping others find the job of their dreams, she enjoys computer geekery, raising a teenager, supporting her local library, writing about herself in the third person and working on her next novel.