can I help my husband network through my own work contacts?

A reader writes:

I know spouses shouldn’t get involved with each other’s job searches or careers. I am sooooooo not that person. But I’m wondering (whether and how) I can help my husband network with my contacts.

Here’s the situation: My husband is in business school. He’s changing careers, and has targeted a specific company where he’d like to work. It’s very competitive, and his background won’t make him a top-tier candidate, so he’s really working his network to try and develop advocates within the company.

I work in the nonprofit sector. Two of the executives at my (mid-sized) nonprofit are former staffers at my husband’s targeted company, as is our board chair. I do not know any of these people well. The two executives work out of an office in a different state; I’ve met one of them once at a training, and work with the other on a project that involves weekly conference calls but no in-person activities. Our board chair happens to live in my city; I’ve had two one-on-ones with him and see him at parties, etc. Can I do anything here? Is there any way to turn these contacts into useful contacts for my husband?

I’d say it’s an absolute no on the person who you’ve only met once, a cautious maybe on the board chair, and another cautious maybe on the one who you talk with on weekly conference calls (but only if you actually talk with her — if she’s one of a large group on the call and you don’t really know her, she’s probably a no).

I know that people often advise that you should make use of any possible connection to a job — even if it’s having your friend’s neighbor’s cousin pass your resume along. But these aren’t that sort of contacts; they’re higher-ups in your company and your board chair, who is your boss’s boss. These aren’t people who you want to risk making uncomfortable by asking for a favor that they might not be willing to do.

What’s more, the nature of their relationship to you means that — if they’re reasonably thoughtful people — they’re going to feel uncomfortable turning you down, because they’ll worry about appearing unkind to an employee. That’s not a position you want to put a board member of your organization in.

So that brings us to the cautious maybe. In practice, what that means is this:  With the two who you semi-know, it’s probably fine to say something like, “I wanted to mention to you that my husband is applying for a job as a ___ with XYZ Company. Since you used to work there, I’d love any advice for him that you might be able to pass on.” Note that you’re not asking them to recommend him or even pass along his resume — you’re only asking for advice. If they want to do more, they’ll offer to — but let them make the offer.

It’s important to be aware here that they don’t know your husband and can’t vouch for him in any meaningful way, so you definitely don’t want to ask for that. If they’re willing to lend a helping hand, they’ll tell you. (Be aware, too, that you’ve said your husband isn’t going to be a top-tier candidate, which could potentially create awkwardness if the do express openness to passing along his resume; if they take a look and see that he doesn’t look especially competitive, they’re now in an even more uncomfortable position.)

But with the person you don’t know at all, I wouldn’t even broach it. It’s just a different networking situation from a neighbor or a friend’s brother-in-law or any of the other weird connections people approach in networking.

{ 16 comments… read them below }

  1. EngineerGirl

    Hey Allison, I’m wondering if this can even be called “networking”. My understanding of it is that someone you know fairly well (and can vouch for you) connects you with someone else that they know fairly well. In short, the best networks are where there are a bunch of known quantities for the person doing the connecting.

    While it is reasonable to develop relationships with others, I’m having a hard time with the going-out-to-coffee as a true network. Rather, I see it as potentially developing a relationship that may become part of a network later. But I see this referred to all the time as “networking”. This is different than my understanding.

    I’ve always done the first with success. The second, casual stuff really hasn’t yielded much for me. Have I missed something?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yeah, what you describe is how I do it too. But there are people who do it much more casually without much personal knowledge of the people they’re connecting. I assume it works some of the time since so many people do it and speak well of it, and the differences in approach are probably due to personality differences, although that’s just a hunch.

      1. EngineerGirl

        Hmmm. From one super-introvert to another, I can get this. Maybe if you’re extroverted it would work?

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I almost wrote that, actually! But on further consideration, I was more doubtful, because it seems to get into things other than introversion/extraversion — it gets into (in my opinion) judgment and cautiousness about your own reputation and an understanding of what type of vouching is really helpful in a job search.

          Now that I’ve written that, it sounds really insulting to people who do engage in this type of networking and find it helpful, which I didn’t intend. Maybe someone who does can jump in and give us a different way of looking at it!

          1. EM

            I read a book about networking for introverts, and it suggested the same thing. Relationship building as opposed to business card collecting.

  2. KarenT

    I’ve done the second, and I am a hard core introvert. However, it’s really expected in my field. My industry is hard to break into, so people tend to be willing to help. I do remember whenever I’d say thank you to a new contact for info/tips they’d given me, they would always say all they expected from me was that when I was successful/established that I would be willing to help the next generation.

  3. KarenT

    Also, this type of networking directly led me to a job, but it gave me invaluable insight into my industry and I learned so, so much from many people I contacted.

  4. Catherine

    I view this situation a little differently. The OP said that her husband has identified a company where he wants to work, and is trying to develop a network there. She didn’t say he had applied for a job, or that there were even any openings posted.

    So, taking Allison’s sage advice as to which people would be appropriate to approach, I would encourage asking these executives if they ever do informational interviews and might consent to one. The OP should make it clear that she is acting as an intermediary, but if she doesn’t mention that the requester is her husband then she is making the situation less awkward for the executives who would potentially feel beholden to do something or risk fostering bad will in their organization.

    I used this strategy myself during my last job search, and had offers in 3 different fields, and I now work in the role I wanted at my preferred employer. You get used to meeting with strangers, doing research about the organization, and discussing whether you may/may not be suitable for their needs in the future or not at all. I’m not a fan of cold calling, or asking strangers to vouch for your credentials (please don’t do those things), but I am a complete fan of building new relationships and doing informational interviews. I recommend it often to my clients, and they are amazed at how helpful people are willing to be if you just ask them. Plain and simple, it works.

    1. Anonymous

      I’m not sure if she should be hiding the ‘husband’ part. The board members might feel misled if they found out after the fact, and think of the awkwardness then!

      1. Catherine

        I’m not suggesting that the OP hide the ‘husband’ part. What I am suggested is that she facilitate the introduction, and see how open they would be to such a meeting. Imagine walking up to Board Member, and asking if they would be willing to meet with her husband for an informational interview. Right then, the Board Member could feel caught: they feel they have to say yes because otherwise, they are rejecting one of their own employees and potentially creating feelings of hardship.

        I always give informational interview contacts an out – e.g. I understand if your current schedule would prohibit you from meeting at this time… That way I’ve already given them a way out, and they don’t actually have to “reject” me.

        For me, the easiest segue into this conversation is to ask one of the executives if they have ever granted an informational interview. It’s just a question at that point in time, and she can gauge whether or not to proceed based on how they answer. If they respond positively (Sure, I do them all the time for my Alumni Association…) that would be the time to disclose her husband & ask if that would be something they are open to.

        On a side note, I would simply encourage using LinkedIn and getting some introductions if he isn’t already connected to the company.

  5. The OP

    Thanks to Alison for taking my question, and I’m interested to see what other commenters have to say as well. This has already been helpful – I read my question and Alison’s response to my husband last night and it helped him to hear her cautiousness. He hasn’t pressured me at all, but I think he doesn’t/didn’t quite understand potential cultural differences between the business world and the nonprofit world (and has never worked with a board).

    I think I left out a couple of pieces of information that might be important for context:

    – Catherine is correct: My husband is in his first year of business school, so he’s a year away from applying for a specific job. He’s just looking to develop his network at the company.

    (He could, of course, try to get an internship at the company during this coming summer, but he’s not focused on that. It would be a great way into the company, but the advice he’s gotten is that given his unusual background he’s not going to be a strong candidate for an internship. There’s not enough time for him to beef up his resume before internship season starts, but he can still make himself a good candidate for post-MBA work at the company by developing industry-specific skills and getting work experience over the next year and a half).

    – I am only three months into my job, so I’m still feeling out the relationships and culture here. I also work remotely (as does almost everyone), so it’s harder than usual to sort this out.

    Thanks all!

  6. AB

    OP, I think it’s great that your husband is already thinking of paving the path for future work at this company he is targeting, and yes, asking for an information interview from the people you know well enough seems like a great strategy to use.

    Just because it will come up when your husband meet one of your contacts (“how do you know each other”), I’d be upfront and tell the people you ask that you are asking on behalf of your husband. I think that if you phrase it the way Catherine suggests (“asking these executives if they ever do informational interviews and might consent to one”), in a non-pressure way, you should be fine, and it may turn not to be a great step for your husband. Many people are flattered with this type of request and enjoy providing help (if not put in a difficult position of being expected to recommend someone they haven’t worked with). Good luck for both of you!

  7. AB

    “it may turn out to be a great step for your husband” — I wrote “turn not” instead of “turn out” as a typo.

  8. Chris Hogg

    How about this?

    Since your husband has some time, both before intern season starts and before he’s ready to actively look for work, he could contact the people you know, as well as others, and set up his own informational interviews. That way:

    You avoid all the awkward situations.

    Your husband learns how to network.

    Your husband opens opportunities, on his own, to be (surprise) considered for an internship.

    Your husband gets really good information that will be really helpful when he starts his job search.

    During his interviews, as it is appropriate, he could mention that you are his wife. But again, he got the appointment on his own, so there should not be any “issue” with that.

    A book he might like is, Ask the Headhunter, by Corcodilos.

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