A reader writes:
I graduated from college in May and became employed shortly after. A month ago, due to cuts, I was laid off and began rigorously looking for work again. I had been networking casually before, but this time I really started to network aggressively, reaching out to alumni who could potentially become professional contacts.
I found an alumna online who was about 8-10 years older than I am, shares my major, and works for a respectable company in the same industry. I sent her a very polite cold email, asking if she’d be willing to give me career advice; I did NOT ask her for job opportunities. She replied back and was perfectly lovely, saying that she helps new college grads all the time and would love to talk. We arranged to meet for coffee next week.
Yesterday, about 9 days after our last correspondence, I sent her another polite email. I asked her how she was doing recently. I briefly mentioned I had done a phone interview this week with a company I like. I reiterated that I was looking forward to our coffee conversation next week. Lastly, just to be friendly, I asked if she had seen a film — tasteful, not vulgar — that was released recently, saying, “P.S. I’ve heard some good reviews for [movie] lately, have you had a chance to see it?”
Today I received this response from her:
Looking forward to meeting you as well. Curious where you heard positive reviews for [movie]; I saw it recently and found it to be poorly executed, others who viewed it shared this opinion. One tip I always give to new college grads is to be less generic in your emails to contacts you are trying to connect with. Some may be fine with it, but to me personally such questions tend to seem vacuous and ingenuine. Talk to me about my professional interests and line of work, not pop culture.
Hope the phone interview will take you to the next round. Let me know if any questions about interviewing.”
When I finished reading it, my face turned bright red, and I just felt a wave of embarrassment wash over me. To be honest, I am a little upset because the tone of the email came across as blunt and rude. I honestly felt that I was just being friendly and didn’t deserve a response like this, but I do acknowledge that she is trying to help me by giving honest advice. Am I being too sensitive to criticism here? What is the best way to respond to an email like this?
Wow. I think the answer is simply that she’s kind of a jerk. Or at the least, pompous.
It’s not like you asked her on a date or inquired about her religious beliefs or otherwise crossed an obvious boundary; you simply brought up a movie, and did so in a way that was clearly just designed to be friendly.
Now sure, there’s an argument to be made that networking emails should focus on professional interests, not pop culture. But reasonable people could disagree on that; it’s certainly not black and white. More to the point, though, her way of telling you this was rude and condescending. (And notice that she managed to smack down your opinion of the movie too, before telling you it was inappropriate to bring it up.)
If she really felt strongly about this, a far more constructive way for her to bring it up would have been to wait for the coffee and then say something like, “By the way, one thing I’d recommend is keeping networking conversations focused on networking. I noticed last week you asked about (movie name), which in normal circumstances would be a friendly overture to make, but in networking might feel out of place to some people.” (Note that I don’t agree with that argument, but this would be a nicer way to frame it if she felt it was important advice to pass along. And she could have used a kinder tone, instead of the snotty one she used in the email.)
In any case, you shouldn’t be the embarrassed one here. Her behavior, by any reasonable person’s standards, was unwarranted and rude.
Frankly, I’d question the quality of any other advice she could give you, based on her judgment here, and might be tempted to cancel the coffee … but you might be better off going and seeing what other ridiculous pronouncements she has for you. Just take any additional advice she gives you with a large amount of skepticism, and don’t take anything she says personally.
You can read an update to this post here.