News » Features

Best new tool for networking: Google Alerts

by

In the ongoing development of me as a brazen careerist, my weak point has been networking. I know it's my weak point because I meet a lot of powerful people who could do a lot for me and instead of leveraging the relationship, I end up losing touch with them.

Where I fail is that I don't know how to maintain regular contact once I have established a base relationship. There is an art form to the act of the "just checking in to see what you're up to" e-mail that is lost on me.

I try to pay close attention when I get one from someone else. Here's what I've noticed: I always appreciate the e-mail, no matter how long it's been since I heard from the person. So probably other people would appreciate an e-mail from me. But still, I put off sending these e-mails because I fear I have nothing to say that the person cares about.

If I were giving advice to myself I'd say, "Just a short, simple e-mail. Nothing huge. To remind the person you are thinking about them and also to tell them what you've been up to." But I always feel like I need some sort of excuse to e-mail. If I were a guy, I'd send an e-mail about sports, like, "Rah rah my team beat yours. Rah rah." Or, "I thought of you sitting in my court-side seats." My instinct, as a woman, I'm sorry to say, is to send stuff about kids. Like, "Congratulations on your son's first birthday. I remember seeing the photo last year and he was so cute." But the kid e-mails have not gone over that well in the world, and, right or wrong, I never get the kid e-mails from men, so I stopped sending them to men.

I had this idea to buy into a service that scans newspapers every day for names of people I know. Then I could say, "I saw your name in the paper. Congratulations on blah blah blah," I would look like I'm really on top of the industry news and that I'm concerned about the person. But the services were all really expensive. And, let's face it, if I were a millionaire, my networking could be, "Hi. How are you? I'd love to chat with you again. Do you want to fly on my jet to my island next week?"

But recently I noticed that Google has a new service, in Beta right now, called Google Alerts. This is how the company Web site describe the service: "Google Alerts are e-mail updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your choice of query or topic."

It seemed too good to be true, but I tried it. I set up an alert for a former boss of mine who was really supportive of me, and then about a year after I left his company I stopped contacting him because I couldn't think of anything to say. (Insane, really. A complete violation of any networking rule book. And just writing about it here makes me realize how absurd it is that I can't figure out how to write a "just saying hi" e-mail. After all, I'm a writer!)

I thought I'd redeem myself by contacting him next time his name is in the press. But after a few days of hearing nothing from Google, I realized I didn't even know if the service worked.

So I set up a Google alert for my sister-in-law, who just landed a job big enough that she's popping up in newspapers all over the country almost every day lately. And sure enough, her name landed in my e-mail box today. The Google alerts worked. My sister-in-law didn't know she was in a Seattle newspaper today until I told her.

Tonight, I created Google alerts for 20 of the people I most wish I would be good at staying in touch with. I feel like I'm on the cusp of making amazing headway in the networking department. God bless Google.

Penelope Trunk has launched new businesses for multinational corporations and she founded two of her own companies. Her writing has appeared in the London Times, the LA Weekly and Time magazine online, among other publications.