should I reconnect with coworkers from my internship last summer?

A reader writes:

I am a recent graduate searching for my first job.  I am going to apply for a position at the nonprofit I interned at last summer, but for a different department.  I am confident that when HR contacts the department I interned for, I will get good reviews.  On the evaluation I scored “superior” on all but a few categories, scoring “proficient” in the other ones.  Upon leaving, I did everything a good intern was supposed to do–I said my good-byes and gave everyone I worked with on a daily basis a thank-you card.  I was invited to keep in contact with them and I told them I would.

Back to school…always having been very shy with keeping up relationships, I did not keep in contact with them because I felt reluctant updating them on my life when I didn’t feel like my mundane activities was “worth” updating.  I realize my mistake and regret it.

My question: should I reconnect with them or no?  If I should, how do I do it without looking desperate or manipulative?

My dilemma: I do not want to appear desperate by contacting them when I’m “conveniently”  applying now (it’s been almost a year since I started the internship).  If I got the job, I wouldn’t want that reputation of “using” or only talking to people for future advantages.

I may be dramatic in thinking this, but if I don’t reconnect, I’m afraid that they may feel offended when they do find out that I applied for a position in the company and didn’t think to contact them.

Another downside, is that HR may think “if she liked it so much, why didn’t she keep in contact?” Still not a good reason to justify losing contact, I’m interested in the company and am for its mission, I just didn’t see myself in that department (since the organization has two different responsibilities).

Yes, you need to reconnect with them now. It would be weird to apply for a position in another part of their organization without reaching out to them — not least because they can (and probably would want to) put in a good word for you.

Should you have kept in touch with them all along? Yes. Is it less-than-ideal to resume contact now, when you’re applying for a job there, than it would have been earlier? Sure. But it’s really not a big deal. People aren’t going to think about this very much. They’re most likely to just think “Oh, it’s nice to hear from her” and then move on to something else — they’re not going to spend time thinking dark things about you because you weren’t in touch earlier.

And HR isn’t going to spend much time wondering why you didn’t keep in contact either. You’re probably over-thinking this, frankly. Get back in touch and don’t worry about it!

But do stay in touch with coworkers in the future, and don’t feel shy about sending updates. You may think your life isn’t worth updating them on, but lots of people take a real interest in hearing what former interns are doing and how they’re making their way in the world. Updates can be as simple as “I’m taking classes in X and Y and trying to figure out what I want to do with my life,” or “I thought of you yesterday because I wrote a paper about Y.” And you can also use these people as sounding boards for professional advice — most people are flattered by being asked for advice.

Good luck!

{ 12 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike C.*

    If you’re really worried, simply mention in passing how crazy things have been or that you’ve been busy and so on. The amount of energy it takes to maintain contact with anyone that might (or might not) be a useful contact is incredible.

    People like your former (and hopefully future!) coworkers are human and they’ll understand.

  2. kristin*

    Also, the writer has a perfect reason to reconnect: Graduation!

    That’s big news, and will be a perfect segue into, “and now I’m looking for a job, and since I loved interning here so much last year, I’m applying for…..”

    I personally wouldn’t even mention that you haven’t kept up with your former co-workers. Focus on the positive things instead. They liked you- they’ll be excited to hear from you.

    (But if you think it would be too weird not to mention it- I like the “things have been crazy!” approach, which will be totally understandable. People know that your senior year of school will be busy).

    Good luck!

  3. MillenniMedia*

    I do agree that you’re probably over-thinking this. If you did a good job during your internship and spent the last year finishing up your degree, I’m sure they’ll understand and still be happy to hear from you. They also know that you’re new to the working world and may not yet know all the professional norms with regard to keeping in contact. With any luck they’ll offer to put in a good word.

    Now that you’ve graduated, I’d really recommend setting up a LinkedIn profile (if you haven’t already). Even if you’re not an active networker, it’s a great way to keep in contact with former peers and college contacts. The added benefit is that you can see when people are promoted, get a new job, etc and can congratulate them on their successes. This helps to keep the lines of communication open so that you don’t feel awkward about reaching out to them in the future.

  4. scott messinger*

    I wouldn’t worry about it. Most people don’t expect you to stay in touch after you leave a job. I would feel weird hearing from a former coworker.

  5. Anonymous*

    “Stay in touch!” is often code for “don’t be too shy to network with me later, since I liked you and thought you were a good employee and want you to have a successful career.”

    I’ve had a lot of interns. Generally speaking I always offer to stay in touch, but I don’t expect it. Unless you’ve become close personal friends, then frankly the “stay in touch” thing is more of a favor to the intern: staying in touch is going to do a lot more for them than it is for me.

    That is to say: don’t be shy. Call them. Of COURSE you’re calling them to talk about work. If they didn’t want that then they wouldn’t have told you to stay in touch.

  6. Anonymous*

    If you finished your internship less than a year ago, I wouldn’t worry about it. “Stay in touch” doesn’t usually mean “spam me with monthly updates.” When I stay in touch with former colleagues or supervisors, I usually just touch base with them once every few months or so, or if I change jobs or something. It sounds like you are right in line with that time frame.

    You should definitely contact them to let them know you have graduated and are applying with their organization, and give them periodic updates during your job search, but it’s okay to let a few months go by with no contact, especially if they knew you were finishing up your degree during that time. Really, it’s OK!

  7. Mike*

    Don’t worry about it. Reach out and contact them. What you have done is what everyone else does.

    It is expected to network and reach out for help. This is the new job market. You won’t land a job without it.

  8. Anonymous*

    WoW, thanks for posting this question. I was wondering the exact same thing. I finished up an internship about 6 months ago, and had a great relationship with my mentor. These past few weeks, I have been wanting to send an e-mail to let him know how I’m doing, but wasn’t sure if that would be weird or awkward. Especially, when he is already busy with his own work and has his own kids/family to take care of. He also never mentioned to me to “stay in touch” before I left my internship, so I didn’t think sending him an update would be appropriate or if he would even care much about it. I’ve been rethinking that after reading this post!

  9. May*

    After reading this, I am reconsidering if I should reconnect with my former supervisor and the people I’ve worked with in the office that I interned for. I finished an internship about six months ago in a position/environment that I could see myself working for in the future. I really enjoy that work that I did there. However, since the internship ended, my direct supervisor moved on to a different job, and I didn’t have any contact information on him. On my last day, I only gave him a thank you card, thanking him for his guidance.

    Anyway, I do have the contact information of a co-worker and friend of his that seems to like my work. He gave me his contact information and told me that if I ever need help with something or have any questions, don’t be shy to call and ask him about it. Right now, I am looking for a job, and am thinking about how to get started so I can entered into the field that they are in, but I don’t know how or where to take the first step so I am wondering, should I contact him about it? I am not very sure because I don’t want him to feel like I’m bothering him or anything. Right now, I feel like I just really need some advice from someone who has been through the process so they can perhaps gave me some advice or where to start first. My biggest concern is that I don’t know how he would feel if he suddenly receive an email from me after six months? Should I or should I not contact this person?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Absolutely you should! Seriously, it’s in no way rude or intrusive to email about something like that. Most people are flattered to be asked for advice. Go for it!

  10. Dawn*

    I’ve never minded hearing from someone out of the blue who I was fond of. I’ll help anyone advance their career and it makes me happy to hear what they’ve achieved since we last talked. Good luck!

  11. Anonymous*

    People understand that life happens, so while it is not a huge deal that you did not keep in touch, remember to keep in touch in the future with other co-workers. Part of being a good networker is providing at least yearly updates and reminding contacts that you are there if you can help them in any way.

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