I graduated undergrad 5 years ago, back when we had a strong economy and I never thought I would need education references anymore. I kept in touch with a few professors for a couple years, but as the time went passed, so did my keeping up with the professors.
Fortunately, I have been keeping up with my grad school professors and directors. Not sure what I would have done if I did not have been in contact with them.
Moral of the story: Keep in touch with professors and other people you meet. You never know when you will need your network.
What are good ways to do this.
- Get contact information early: try to make a connection while you are still in class or working with them. Worst case, when people are leaving, it tends to get sentimental and is a good time to exchange email and other contact info.
- Follow up promptly: once you have someone's contact info, shoot them a quick email, nothing difficult here. Just one or two lines and mention something that you were connected over. This could be a joke, a class, a book, almost anything, just something that you remembered or noticed while interacting with them.
- Reconnect seasonally: for some reason, quarterly is a great time to connect with people. It can be as simple as just saying hello and a quick update of what is going on. Even better, with social media, maybe just a quick tweet @ the person or a simple Facebook message will suffice. At least do this once a year, and if possible a birthday is a great time to connect.
- Keep a master list: It is great to keep all your information organized, this will seem completely pointless until you need something. Have a view of all people you have connected with, like a mini CRM for yourself. Facebook, could do this for you, through lists. Or even in Gmail with Labels, but I have found a quick little spreadsheet or database does wonders. Spend some time on this, it will be well worth it.
- Now it was worth it: the relief of having done this work pays off when you need a reference or looking for a job. Over time, this list can grow into something very valuable to you. It is a great way to network and you never know where your next opportunity will come from.