Monday, April 20, 2015

Job Search Lessons - Contact Management

That thing in the picture is a Rolodex.  It used to be such a commonplace tool for contact management that it became the defacto noun used to refer to one's contacts, e.g., an "extensive Rolodex" meant you had a lot of contacts. I never had one.

By the time I really started worrying about maintaining contacts, I was using an electronic device of some sort to do it.  But that does not mean I did it well.  Let's learn from my mistakes.

It Starts With Vigilance

Not too long ago, I sat down and noticed that I had thousands of contacts.  Many I could not remember and many I had never contacted.  The pile of contacts was so great that sifting through to start correcting those things was quite daunting.  I am still working on it.

When you get contact information for someone that you want to contact in the future, record it.  Sure, there will be plenty of people giving you business cards that you may never want to talk to again and you are pretty sure of that from start; fine, forget those.  But for the rest, don't drop the ball.

Dropping the ball can start from the moment you slide a business card into your pocket, bag, etc.  I don't generally collect business cards from folks.  Rather, I do one of the following:
  • Snap a picture of their business card
  • Connect on LinkedIn
  • Add them to my Contacts on the spot
  • Have them text me, or vice versa (if the primary goal is name and number)
This gets them into an electronic medium as quickly as possible, which works well for me.  That said, I do admit that every now and then I look through my pictures and stumble across a business card that has long awaited processing.

What about those edges cases?

Let's say Glad-Handing Bob shoves a card in your face and you are 100% sure you will never want (or need) to talk to this person. OK, feel free to recycle that card and move on.  Life is too short and you need to manage your precious time to maintain contacts you want/need.  Cluttering up your contacts with these entries will just make it harder to identify/remember the contacts you *want* to reach.

But then Reasonably-Intelligent-Or-Affable Joe gives you his card and even though you don't see it now, you think you *might* want to maintain contact in the future.  That's up to your personal taste.  I would recommend at least adding them to LinkedIn.  I have plenty of LinkedIn connections that are not contacts and I am content with that.

Choose Your Weapon

I recommend your keep your contacts in a personal, online repository like Google Contacts.  If you end up leaving your job or having your laptop/tablet/phone stolen, you don't want to also lose your contacts.  I have been pretty happy with the functionality of

But you might want to go one step further and set up a Customer Relationship Manger (CRM) with notes and records of when you made contact.  It may sound over-the-top, but it is certainly a fine choice.  I have even pondered it.  In some sense, I use my Google Contacts as a crude CRM by keeping some notes, but nothing as sophisticated as a real CRM.

One thing that holds me back from using a formal CRM application is that I expect Google to be around for a long time and I am comfortable with how they handle my data.  I cannot say the same for CRM vendors.

It Continues With Vigilance

When I started tackling my mountain of contacts, I was primarily a gardener, weeding out entries made "just in case".  These were generally made in work places where the concept of an effective global address book for the company/department was not a reality; thankfully, that is mostly a thing of the past.

But it was more than just weeding out the contacts that should not be there.  It was about distinguishing between different groups of contacts.  I started tagging various contacts with labels to better categorize them, e.g., the technology expert I spoke to once vs. my close friends from grad school.  Tags/labels are your friend in this regard.  If your contact tool of choice does not allow this, I recommend considering a change of technology.

Consider, for example, the proverbial "Holiday Card List".  I am certainly not sending cards to two thousand people.  So, I created a label/tag for friends and family that I want to try and contact at least once a year to catch up with them.

For professional purpose, it is also handy to be able to quickly pull up who is in academia, healthcare, technology, etc.  Label, label, label.

It Ends With Vigilance

It really is like taking care of a garden.  Routine maintenance is easy and can even be pleasant.  But let those weeds grow out of control and you will have a mess that you might be reluctant to keep up.

Don't be the person on the block with crazy, overgrown, jungle-like contact list.

Now, if I can just keep applying what I have learned...

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