my networking contact chastised me; how should I respond?

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.

{ 200 comments… read them below }

  1. AF*

    Agreed – you were being friendly. Love that she gave you her opinion like yours was wrong. And please share what other advice she might give you when you meet with her; hopefully Alison won’t have to do too much damage control :)

  2. KarenT*

    She does sound like a condescending jerk! If she didn’t want to engage in a discussion about the movie, she should have just ignored the reference.

    1. KarenT*

      And this really bothers me:
      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.

      She’s presenting it like fact.

        1. Liz T*

          The OP didn’t even see the movie, though! S/he just thought it sounded good. Which makes it seem like a weird question to ask the contact, but hardly objectionable.

        2. Kelly O*

          Clearly the OP was talking about Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2: Electric Boogaloo: The Search for More Money. Critically acclaimed and whatnot…

          And yeah, that’s exactly what I thought when reading it. Someone gave me a very similar comment when I suggested Real Genius as a fun movie I love watching.

          1. Jamie*

            Back when The Deathly Hallows first came out, if someone had emailed me about networking and mentioned they had seen it I’d probably have tried to upgrade the coffee to lunch …and talked to my boss about creating a position for them just so I’d have had someone to talk to about that at work.

            Unless they liked the added scene where Harry and Hermione were dancing and it seemed like there was romance afoot…which was SO not canon…then of course I’d have tried to have them blackballed from the industry entirely.

            1. Kelly O*

              I need to move to Chicago, because we would have so much to talk about… erm, I mean we could work so productively together.

              (Because I have not had serious, long conversations with like-minded people over why the holy hand grenade Tom Bombadil was left out of EVERY STINKING Lord of the Rings move, and in all those hours of footage they could not even mention him once? Nevermind giving Liv Tyler the good Glorfindel bits… mumble, grumble…)

              1. Jamie*

                Should that ever happen I will not only lobby tptb to create a position for you, but I’d take a pay cut to help fund it.

                I’d think of it as importing sanity.

              2. Camellia*

                My husband swears he is going to do everything in his power to prevent me from seeing The Hobbit. Because he had to endure hours of me expounding on everything wrong in the other three movies.

                I understand they can’t put everything from the books into the movie. What I don’t understand is MAKING UP STUFF THAT ISN’T EVEN IN THE BOOKS! W.T.F??

                1. Sandrine*

                  I need to work with some of you.

                  Although I will confess that I need to see some good “comedy” and “bad” movie… so I’m watching Twilight tomorrow with my Dad XD .

                  (For some reason, the fact that a 50 years old man likes Twilight makes me giggle… I don’t have anything against people who like it, but my Dad still makes me giggle ;) )

      1. The Other Dawn*

        “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.”

        To me it came across as she’s implying OP is lying about hearing positive reviews.

        1. Elizabeth*

          Nah, I think she’s just implying that the OP has poor judgement in where s/he reads reviews, or that OP’s friends have bad taste. Which is still pretty tacky, even if it’s not quite accusing someone of lying.

  3. Steve G*

    She was rude, I get her point, but at the same time, most social interactions with new people – at cocktail parties, networking events, first dates, sitting next to someone on a long flight, even meeting long lost relatives – all involve the non-personal trivial chit chat such as a movie, etc. What would life be like if we all got to the “what do you think the meaning of life is” type questions immediately upon meeting? And how many of those conversations can you have anyway, before they run out of steam?

    Further, she is only 8-10 yrs older than you and not all 30yos have it together themselves. Same for older folks. And the annoying comments such as the one you experienced will keep on coming. For example, at 31, I often get told by a coworker “you wouldn’t remember that.” Ok, I am young, but its not like they don’t rerun old tv shows, replay old music to death, or that I never took history or read a book about what happened before 1981. And 1/2 the time its about something that happened when I was alive and remember it! The awkward thing about this comment is it either automatically removes you from the conversation, you get explained something you already know about, or you have to defend how you remember it. This is just an example of one of the many comments you cant let “turn your face red” and get upset about in life. They don’t end at a certain age. Actually it is the new inside joke with my coworker. If someone mentions something that happened more than a year ago, she says “oh thats before his time.”

    1. the gold digger*

      For example, at 31, I often get told by a coworker “you wouldn’t remember that.”

      Ooops! I need to be more careful about this. I work with some people just out of college, which makes me feel very old! I don’t question their ability or competence at all, but sometimes that I talk about stuff that happened before they were born and comment on that. Not because I am trying to demean them but because Man, I’m ancient! How did that happen!

      I hadn’t thought about how it might come across. I will be more attentive to it now. I don’t want to make someone feel slighted.

      1. Katie*

        I’m not even that old and I do this sometimes. I didn’t realize it could be offensive. I think it largely comes from the fact that I’m growing increasingly uncomfortable with getting older, and comments like that are just a reflection of my own hang-ups. I agree you shouldn’t let it make you upset.

        1. 1040Glory*

          I once met someone who did not know who Zack morris and AC Slater were. That was the moment that made me feel suddenly very very very old.

          1. Jamie*

            I am far older than you…because when I met someone who had never heard of Valarie Bertinelli I wanted to retire to a couch to live out my life covered in an afghan and eating soup.

            1. youngun*

              oh lord. I do know a fair amount about pop culture from the 50s and 60s…..but that’s because I Love Lucy was my favorite show as a kid…and I spent far too much time watching Nick at Nite, Best songs of hte 80s/90s/I Love the (Decade) series from VH1…Even had a crush on Scott Baio when I was 12.

              But cmon, WHO DOESNT KNOW ZACK MORRIS!!!

              I’m 27 now for what its worth.

                1. Rana*

                  Heh. I’m 42, and I have no clue who these people are either.

                  On the other hand, I do know who Tom Bombadil, Harry, and Hermione are…

            2. NDR*

              Do you know that Valerie Bertinelli has a line of home goods (think cake stands and kitchen towels)? So weird to me.

              I discovered this in the company of some much-younger folks and had to (try unsuccessfully to) explain who she is.

              1. JP*

                I’ve had to explain to every group of new interns lately how to dial out on a landline.

                “Press ‘9’ then ‘1’ for long-distance.”
                “….Wait, is Florida considered long distance?”
                (We live in DC.) “….Yes.”

                I’m 28, and doing this is the first time I’ve ever actually felt OLD!

            3. Diane*

              She designs clothes now. Darn good ones. I weep that kids these days don’t know her youthful television exploits and her awesome hair. I still don’t have that hair. Sniffle.

          2. FreeThinkerTX*

            I had to Google “Zack Morris”, because I had no idea who he was. I didn’t know if it that lack of knowledge made me younger or older than you… But now I see that I must be older than you by 10-20 years; because I am 46 and had never heard of either characters you named.

    2. ChristineH*

      For example, at 31, I often get told by a coworker “you wouldn’t remember that.”

      LOL my husband, who is 10 years older than me, does that to me all the time! Lucky for him, he’s right most of the time.

      1. Anonymous*

        My boyfriend talks about “when I was in high school…” and I remind him that we’re actually the same age so not much had changed during that time and when I was in high school…because it was the same time. He’s so weird.

      2. K.*

        I had a long relationship with a guy 10 years my senior and the only time we felt the age difference was when we talked about where we were at certain historical events. “I was in high school when that happened.” “I was five.” “Eesh.”

        1. Jamie*

          My husband is 4 months older than me – so for those months his age is a year more than mine.

          I refer to this span as our generation gap. I ask him what things were like back in his day…yeah, it never gets old. For me. Fortunately for him I offset my obnoxious side with some excellent laundry and cleaning skills.

          True anecdote from my workplace about age: We used to have a wonderful gentleman do our office cleaning. He was such a kind man that we had a company wide party when he retired…but I digress.

          One day I was a co-worker’s office talking and it was late – everyone else had gone home. I was 41 and the co-worker was in her mid-twenties. This lovely gentleman struck up a conversation about how she (co-worker) had led a charmed life as she’d had it easy. She’d never known what it was like not to have electricity or indoor plumbing. “Not like when we were young!” as he gestures to me.

          Now he was easy mid 70’s and retired shortly thereafter due to vision problems and cataracts – but I’m still living this down. Every so often I get asked how often I had to polish the wood burning stove, or if I was really excited by the advent of the railroad.

          To which I just remind them who sets the schedule for inventory and then everyone pretends to me nice to me again.

          For the record I was born in the late sixties and grew up in a Chicago suburb. We had electricity and toilets – I swear we did!

          1. youngun*

            ahjahahhaha that’s hilarious!!!!

            I was discussing a soundtrack of a movie with a friend who’s many years older than me (I have friends of different ages)… I said that the songs reminded me of my childhood…and the look on his face was absolutely priceless whne he said he felt so old. lol

          2. K.*

            My friend does the “generation gap” thing to his fiance, who is three years older than he is. “He was born way, way back.” The side-eyes he gets from his fiance are amazing. It’s hilarious.

            That janitor story … ouch! (Hee. But also ouch.)

        2. Jen in RO*

          My boyfriend is also 10 years old and this always happens. It’s so weird! He was halfway through high school the year I started first grade…

    3. Bridgette*

      People do that to me all the time, as I am the youngest in my workplace (at 28). But I read history and pop culture like it’s the end of the world. I know more about movies, books, and historical events that are “before my time” than most of the people here. I may not have physically been there but I know what they are talking about! /end rant

      1. Maire*

        I also hate when people use their age as an excuse for NOT knowing things. Like “oh that was before my time”. Just because it was before your time doesn’t mean you can’t know about it; there are ways of finding out about things before your time, like -oh I don’t know- books, films, internet. Even TV does a great line in things “before your time”.

        1. Janet*

          Yes, this irks me. Frequently older people in my office are very dismissive of things like Twitter or Facebook like “Oh I have no idea what any of that is about – seems like a huge waste of time to me.” and they’re in Marketing. I wish they’d realize how out-of-touch it makes them sound. You don’t have to like Twitter but if you’re going to work in Marketing you should at least be aware of it and know how other companies are using it.

          1. Lisa*

            “You don’t have to like Twitter but if you’re going to work in Marketing you should at least be aware of it and know how other companies are using it.”

            Totally agree. No one in marketing likes Google+ (how dare Google force feed a social platform on us that must be taken seriously otherwise you won’t rank ahead of competitors!), but we have to recommend it and offer strategies for it because of how valuable it is to the core business site not ranking in Google.

          2. Jamie*

            I hate both Twitter and Facebook with a passion – but I don’t think that’s because I’m several hundred years old (which I am.)

            I think it’s because in a smaller company without a marketing department Twitter, Facebook, emarketing, etc. falls to the IT department because…I don’t know…it involves the internet all of which is somehow in my wheelhouse…which can’t possibly be true.

            Seriously people, just because it involves typing and bandwidth does not make it an IT task. I don’t want to tweet! /whining

            1. Kelly O*

              Husband used to complain that some people in my current company thought if you used a computer to do it, then it was IT’s responsibility. He would direct all Excel questions to me, because he is not that great with a spreadsheet. Setting up your network? Awesome. Creating a pivot table? Not so much.

              1. Jamie*

                Give pseudo Ron Swanson a big hello from me – and my sympathies.

                At least he had you. I’m all alone on this island.

        2. Jamie*

          Exactly. I know quite a bit about the civil war, but that doesn’t mean I’m old enough to have been a camp follower.

          1. KarenT*

            I was just thinking about my love of Victorian literature, and I hope people don’t think that means I was there.

        3. fposte*

          Sure, but a lot of things that were before their time aren’t significant, and a lot of stuff that’s equally as far before our adulthood we don’t know. It kind of depends on whether we’re talking presidents, teen dreams of the day, or something in between.

          1. Bridgette*

            Quite true, I would be far more annoyed if someone my age didn’t know JFK or the Beatles (and I have encountered them), rather than an obscure film or something like that.

        4. Laura L*

          I agree. That’s why I say “I don’t care” when I don’t know something. (I usually word it more nicely than that.) Then I don’t have to sit through a lecture about a topic I’m not interested in because the other person feels the need to educate me. :-)

        5. RJ*

          My mom opts out of “potent potables” and anything involving post 1940s geography on Jeopardy! Because she doesn’t drink and learned geography in school in the 40s, she doesn’t feel any need to be knowledgeable on those subjects. When I try to use a similar argument for 17th Century Opera, she laughs at me like I’m stupid for not knowing those questions. :)

    4. Elizabeth West*

      My recent bf was 18 years younger than me, and I could never assume he didn’t know about something. Often he knew more about certain stuff than I did. We did watch a lot of older movies he hadn’t seen, but then he got me to watch newer things I wasn’t sure I would like and did.

      I miss him. :'(

  4. fposte*

    I’d probably still go to lunch, for both good reasons and bad. Good: she still might have some value and might actually acknowledge that this was a dopey response. Bad: I wouldn’t want her believing that I canceled because I was sulking or cowed. (And I might actually be sulking, because she’s seriously a pill.)

    1. Jamie*

      I would have gone at the stage in my career of the OP – for the reasons fposte stated. I wouldn’t want to look sulky (although I totally would be.)

      But now? Nah – life is too short to put up with crap like this unless you need it.

      And to chime in, OP did nothing wrong at all and that level of bitchiness over an innocuous comment is ridiculous.

    2. Bridgette*

      I’d be tempted to cancel as well but I wouldn’t want her to think I was sulking, even though I totally would be sulking.

      I would try to think of her in terms of a few friends I have that tend to come across as pompous and know-it-all at first. They are insecure and put on a facade of being knowlegable about everything. I didn’t like them at first but after getting to know them they softened up and we’ve had some good conversations about how they are coming across. Of course this is a networking contact so you probably won’t ever get to that point, but it helps to think about where this attitude might come from.

      Or she could just be an ass. It happens. :)

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Good one, Bridgette.
        Yes, OP’s contact is insecure. We know this because she has to have her opinion backed up by others. “I think this movie stunk and so did my friends.”
        Well, I guess since she knows a group of people thinking the same way then that must be right…right? (NOT)

        If you decide to go, OP, this will be an exercise in resilience. It could be that your biggest worry becomes to contain your laughter, as you realize her advice is sooo off the mark.

        I give you credit for putting yourself out there. This networking thing is something I do not do well with because I live in FEAR of this type of thing happening to me. Everyone’s comments here are very reassuring.

        I think it’s going to rain tomorrow and three of my friends think so too…. (am chuckling…)

  5. Victoria*

    So, obviously she was rude.

    But I’d actually take her advice. I see that Alison disagrees with me, but honestly I would think it was strange if someone I didn’t know dropped in a question about a movie (or whatever) without any context. Context being something as simple as “Enjoy your weekend! I’m going to go see Movie X; I’ve heard a bunch of great reviews. Have you seen it?”

  6. Joey*

    Whoa! The reactions are a little overkill. As with any advice you have to be selective about what you consume. I agree the approach could have been more constructive, but that doesn’t mean she’s worthless as a mentor. It’s only blunt and rude if you let yourself interpret it that way. You could argue she’s just blunt and opinionated. Again, consume what works for you and discard the rest. And weigh the positives and the negatives of her before doing anything rash.

    1. EJ*

      +1. I’m surprised by the responses here.

      The OP had initially reached out to this person for advice in a cold email, and this stranger not only responded but was willing to help. Given that the initial interaction was predicated on wanting guidance / advice, I see not reason for the contact to think it was unreasonable to provide that (even if it was blunt).

      I think the OP’s line about hearing good reviews about a movie was out of place in the email. In person, perfectly valid (even better if she’d actually seen the movie). But in a networking email, the second correspondence no less, references to pop culture ARE out of place. The OP does not know this person…once there is a relationship, and a movie recommendation could be done based on knowledge of what sorts of films that contact enjoys, I would see that differently.

      Criticism is hard to take at the best of times. I find it difficult myself. But we should be grateful when someone takes the time to provide us with constructive criticism – if certain approaches offend one person, there’s a chance they’d offend others as well, who may simply not respond.

      So OP, don’t let your face to red, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Just say ‘Thanks for the feedback’ and take it in stride.

      1. EJ*

        And definitely, to Joey’s point above, take advice from everyone with a grain of salt.

        But also take email tone with a grain of salt, too. When you meet her in person, you may find she wasn’t being an ass, and she just came across that way via email (perhaps something she should work on herself).

      2. KarenT*

        Yes, but what makes her response weird isn’t just that she corrected the OP for making reference to the movie, but did engage in that conversation by saying she thought it was poorly executed and “others who viewed it shared this opinion.”
        And vacuous and ingenuine are strong word choices.

        1. EJ*

          I agree that it was a harsh way to share that criticism. But sometimes blunt feedback can be the most useful kind to receive.

          1. fposte*

            If she’d just said “For god’s sake, don’t talk about movies in a networking correspondence,” that would be blunt feedback.

            Saying that and then criticizing the person for her reports on the movie because she had a different opinion isn’t blunt or harsh, it’s weird and confusing.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I can kind of see what Joey is saying. I also know that not every mentor is a good fit for every learner. People take in new subject matter in all different ways.

      The little mentoring I have done, I have tried to flex to match my person I am mentoring. Notice I say “tried”. Sometimes it is not possible to flex. However, I do try to look at the person in front of me and figure out what that person needs from me.

      This lady is going to be candid and quickly cut to the point. She will not mince words or sugar coat things. Sometimes we need people like that. Other times… not so much. As you mull over whether to go or not, OP, this will be something to consider: Do you want this type of mentoring?

    3. Ellie H.*

      I can kind of see that the remark may have been out of place in this particular email. Let’s also remember that a remark can be a bit out of place in a non-networking/work related email, too. Still, I consider it very innocuous. But to me, the minor awkwardness of this slightly misplaced, generic social remark is so totally eclipsed by the rude response that the reply invalidates whatever original awkwardness there may have been. (I know the world doesn’t actually work that way, but I mean in the metaphysical sense.) That’s my 2 cents.

      1. fposte*

        Exactly my thought, and why the “don’t call me Liz” emails really have some parallel. Proportionate response, people.

      2. Rana*

        Yeah, if talking about a film in a networking email is out of place, so is making your correspondent feel small and stupid for making a mistake.

  7. Anonymous*

    I’m curious– what would people’s response be if she had responded reasonably pleasantly to the networking stuff and just ignored the movie question? Would that have been a more tactful way of conveying that she’d prefer to keep the conversation focused on networking?

    1. fposte*

      Or she could even say “I prefer to keep the conversation on networking”–that’s perfectly fine. But apparently talking about movies is fine when she wants to do it to put somebody else in their place; she wanted to have her bitchcake and eat it, too.

      1. Anonymous*

        I was thinking that the rudeness (i.e. “you’re an idiot for liking that movie”) could also be read as “here’s why it’s better to stick to networking– don’t assume we have the same taste.” But I agree, very rudely done. Could have been done WAY more tactfully.

        1. fposte*

          But she didn’t assume a similarity of taste. It’s a movie; mentioning you liked it doesn’t confer an obligation on anybody (unless it was a Twilight movie, which apparently requires more partisanship than the election) . Anybody who’s going to get bent out of shape about divergent opinion on Wreck-It Ralph has kind of lost track of life.

          1. Anonymous*

            We don’t know the context of the situation; in some fields (like academia, where I work) taste in films kind of *can* be a bit more of an issue.

            1. fposte*

              I work in academia too, and anybody who lectured somebody they didn’t know on liking a movie would still be considered an ass. (Plus an academic is too arrogant to need to bring friends in to support her vote :-).)

              1. Anonymous*

                I’m not trying to argue that it’s OK for her to have criticized the movie/OP. My point is that not everyone wants to get into that kind of small talk–I’ve certainly seen plenty of discussion re disliking small talk on this site–and that there are more tactful ways of discouraging it. End of story. No need to get into bashing people’s professions.

                1. Jamie*

                  Even academics can’t make academic jokes?

                  I really hope it never comes to that. What would be next? IT required to take ourselves seriously, too?

                  Trust me – no one wants that.

          2. Esra*

            Mostly because if she didn’t like Wreck-It Ralph, she was super wrong. I mean, come on! It was a fantastic love letter to gamers.

            But even if it was Twilight, her response is still weird and rude. It just seems odd to get irritated by someone mentioning a movie you didn’t like.

      2. Marly King*

        “She wanted to have her bitchcake and eat it, too.”

        This comment just made my day! I’ll have to find a way to use it at some point.

    2. Kerry*

      I think that would have been the perfect response. Or even a quick mention like Alison suggests – “by the way, in a networking context, most people will appreciate it if you skip the small talk” – rather than the way she did it here, belittling the OP’s opinion.

    3. anonintheUK*


      Perhaps she hasn’t realised the damage she’s done herself, but I imagine she will now be forever thought of in the OP’s mind as ‘that woman to whom I reached out for help and who was unnecessarily rude to me’. NOT an association you need.

      1. Maria*

        Agree- I have a feeling either she knows she’s a jerk and doesn’t care, or she is completely oblivious that her response was totally inappropriate to the perceived faux pas. I’ve met a lot of very competent people at work that are very socially awkward, maybe because they’re so devoted to their work. I wouldn’t discount her advice though just because she was a jerk, like I have experience myself, she may be very competent at her job, just really bad with people.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Anonymous, that would have worked for me. If I got an email back with nothing about the movie in the email- I would figure “stick to business.” I try to come in on the same plane that the other person is using.

    5. Ellie H.*

      Yes, I definitely think ignoring it would have been tactful and polite. Even if the movie question was a bit awkward or misplaced, the most gracious thing to do would have been to say something like, “P.S. Yes, I did see [x], but I wasn’t as crazy about it as the reviews were.” But I think ignoring it would have been 100% fine too, and also likely to discourage that kind of remark in future, and therefore effective for her purposes.

  8. ChristineH*

    While I personally would never include pop culture or other non-professional topics in a networking email (I’ve never thought it was appropriate at this stage…better to wait until you’ve established more of a rapport; but I absolutely respect the opposite opinion), I do agree that this person’s response could have been much gentler. I would still go for coffee, though, because you might find she’s different in person. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what people are really like online and via email because you don’t have vocal tone and other nonverbal cues to work with. Yes, definitely don’t let your guard down just yet, but keep your mind open.

  9. Jeff*

    I see nothing wrong with the response, and don’t consider it to be rude. This person was randomly asked about a film, and she replied with her honest opinion. In addition, she also gave some constructive advice – exactly why the OP sought this person out in the first place.

    The OP said she was “network(ing) aggressively”, is it possible that the other person was a bit annoyed that after already agreeing to help by meeting for coffee that the OP was pestering her with another email asking her opinion about a film?

    1. Liz T*

      I sort of agree. I do think it was a weird question to ask in an email, especially about a movie the OP had not seen. If I were to email Alison with a question, it’d be weird to add, “Oh, and have you seen Skyfall? I haven’t but my Facebook friends liked it.”

      However, the contact here also responded with an implication that the OP couldn’t possibly have heard good things about this movie she hated, which was rude and bizarre. Was she accusing the OP of lying about good reviews? If it’s not a good topic for such emails, why is she engaging in it.

      I agree with the contact that I’d roll my eyes at a random off-topic email question from someone I hadn’t met yet–it would feel like an attempt to force a personal relationship that wasn’t there. However, I couldn’t imagine responding the way this woman did.

      1. Jeff*

        Regarding the subject of your second paragraph – I didn’t interpret the question that way, I thought it was an honest question. BUT I can see how it could be read that way, and if it was it would change the perceived tone of the contact’s reply considerably.

        I wouldn’t have responded the same way either, but I probably would have second thoughts about agreeing to help the OP after receiving the second email. I would see it as a big warning flag that the OP may have “boundary issues”, which I would want to back away from. The contact kindly agreed to help the OP and meet to talk shop, but then the OP continued to email (instead of just waiting to talk at the meeting) and ask about some random movie – it would have sent up red flags to me.

  10. Katrina Prock*

    I would respond with a very polite and gracious, ”Point Taken.” Then feel her out from here. Feeling comfortable enough to ask someone about a movie is somewhat borderline after only one prior contact, but it’s not nearly as strange feeling comfortable enough to be rude like she was.

    1. EJ*

      – a very polite and gracious, ”Point Taken.”

      I like that as a response to assertive feedback. Good idea.

    2. Kit M.*

      I like this idea. I actually used this the other day in conversation when someone replied to something I said in a way that struck me as sort of pretentious and ungracious. It was much like the OP’s situation, come to think of it, because he was also doing me a favor at the time!

      If I was feeling passive aggressive I would also add, “And I will assume you’re not actually curious about where I heard those positive reviews.”

  11. moe*

    Just curious, was there anything about the movie–subject matter, political bent, etc.–that could potentially offend someone?

    1. Janet*

      This is what I’m wondering.

      Something like “I hope you had a great weekend. I saw Lincoln and was blown away but the fantastic acting and directing.” is certainly normal but something like “I am tired today because I saw Breaking Dawn Part 2 at midnight and being Team Jacob, I am sad how it all turned out” would not be appropriate.

      “I am just finishing up a fantastic book by Michael Chabon and would be interested in hearing if you have any industry books you’d recommend.” would be fine “Have you read Fifty Shades of Gray? This book has inspired me to look into moving to Seattle.” would not be cool.

        1. Jamie*

          As soon as I get a couple more people I know to confirm this opinion I’ll start stating it as fact in all my business correspondence. :)

        2. Zee*

          Really? I’m glad I have decided not to spend my $10+ on it. I’ll wait for my library to get it so I can borrow it for free! :-)

      1. moe*

        Even with something like Lincoln, I can imagine some instances in which it could offend–if the contact is a history buff and spotted some inaccuracies, or from a state/party that she felt was given negative treatment. With pop culture, I think there’s little that’s truly “safe.”

  12. BW*

    Wow. *facepalm*

    You’re not being too sensitive here. She was just straight-up rude and insulting. I can’t imaging meeting up for coffee with someone who looks down on small talk will be a very pleasant experience.

    1. Jamie*

      I agree with you personally, but from a professional standpoint I know too many people who are blunt and even rude like this – who would indeed have excellent advice and professional connections worth cultivating…at least at the OPs stage of career.

      Like a brilliant doctor with a lousy bedside manner…you can still avail yourself of her expertise without condoning the lack of people skills.

      1. AnotherAdmin*

        Excellent point Jamie. My ob/gyn can be a piece of work, but he guided me through my one and only pregnancy – which was extremely high rise – with flying colors. When I went to the hospital to deliver, the admitting nurse actually said, “Oh God, you’ve got Dr X – he’s a bit of a jerk, but you could not be in better hands.” And she was right.

        Everyone can’t be Suzie Sunshine, but more often than not they have something valid to offer – if you are willing to wade through their crapola.

  13. mel*

    I’m on the fence, mostly because I’m so removed from the professional workforce and don’t know anything about it (I’m more of a manual labourer – ick).

    I feel like the tone was bad, but we can’t judge tone in writing because there isn’t any. We guess and invent it. The OP didn’t even have an opinion to be shot down because she didn’t see the movie. Maybe she was genuinely curious, or maybe she wanted to save the OP a $12 movie ticket, who knows.

    Maybe the alumna has had difficulty establishing boundaries for all of these young networkers she apparently helps all of the time. Maybe she is regularly inundated with insincere comments from people who only want something out of her, and she has a bad habit of always saying “yes” when she should really say “no”?

    Maybe the alumna thinks of herself as a martyr, we can only really guess at it. It’s no excuse to be rude, but it might explain the bluntness of the reply.

    1. Ariancita*

      Agreed. I think there’s a lot of reading into this tone and intent. Sure, she was terse, but I didn’t find it overly rude or chastising. Shrug. I agree with her point that those movie comments in a networking email sound vacuous and insincere.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Nothing wrong with being a manual laborer. I would so totally be doing this if my shoulders weren’t completely shot- there are jobs out there that I just can’t do. It’s way preferable to unemployment. And I’m sick of answering the phone.

      Your analysis does bring up a good point. Many times things don’t sound the way in email that we intended them to sound when they were written.

  14. Zee*

    The OP’s contact seems to be a bit of a hypocrite. She engaged in the conversation about the film, and then, she turned around to chastise the OP about discussing pop culture for small talk.

    I don’t know the woman, but based on this little bit, I would act with caution around her. If she can’t take a little discussion about a movie lightly, then I don’t know what kind of reputation she has created for herself in the office. I would keep her in the network, but I would not make her the only contact. Spread out and find a few others.

    1. khilde*

      I think this is a good point: that she entered into a conversation about the movie only to say immeditely afterward that it’s not professional to engage in small talk like that. Good observation.

  15. Jen*

    This woman’s response to the OP was definitely rude, and out of place. But it seems to me like everyone seems quite eager to throw the baby out with the bathwater on this one.

    If she’s been otherwise helpful and pleasant, perhaps chalk this one up to a bad day leading to a lapse in judgement and tact? I know I’ve certainly been snipey and ungracious (especially in email, when tone is totally lost) to someone who didn’t deserve it, because I happened to think they did something I consider minorly stupid, after dealing with a truckload of minor and major stupidities all day (week, month, whatever).

    It’s not right, it’s not ok, it’s not flattering, but it happens sometimes.

    At least the OP can take some solace in the fact that she could live out her embarrassment in relative privacy, and focus on the fact that she’s learned something about the awkwardness and absurdities that can come with dealing with people.

    Then get over it and get on with it.

    (And as for OP taking the networking contact’s advice with a grain of salt in the future – that’s a good stance for advice from anyone. Nobody’s perfect, and everyone gives bad advice sometimes.)

    1. Kelly O*

      I think maybe the bigger point is, there is normally no one person who is 100% awesome all the time. (Some of us get close, mind you…)

      In all seriousness, it might be a good lesson in the fickle nature of human beings, and how what seems perfectly innocent to one might be the match that sets hair on fire for another. Or even the varying definitions of what “hair on fire” may mean for one person or another.

      I do think it was a jerky way to respond to a little small talk in an email with a person with whom you’ve developed a relationship. There are more tactful ways to say what she was trying to say, without climbing up on the cross.

  16. Laura*

    Maybe I am in the minority but I REALLY think it was inappropriate to bring up the movie. I think the responder was not nice in how she handled addressing it, but I don’t know if I would help someone who made that type of small talk in an email.

    Making small talk relating to something we spoke about in our coffee meeting (upcoming vacation, etc) is fine, but I just think this was widely inappropriate.

    1. Maria*

      Really, you wouldn’t even help someone who asked about a movie? I agree I thought it was more of an awkward thing to do, but I don’t think it warrants a strong reaction either way. I think simply ignoring it or addressing it in person in a gentler way if it HAD to addressed would be kinder. I suspect this person should not have agreed to meet the OP for coffee at all since she has so little patience.

    2. Liz T*

      I don’t think it’s inappropriate per se, but I would take it as naïve and ham-handed. For some reason, I find it particularly bizarre that the OP asked about a movie s/he hadn’t even seen! I would think, “What, do you want me to plan your weekend for you?”

      1. Kelly O*

        See, I think that’s reading way too much into it.

        I mean, I want to go see Wreck-It Ralph too, but I haven’t yet. So I might say “by the way, have you seen Wreck-it Ralph yet? I’ve heard great things about it.”

        If you’re supposed to develop a relationship with people in your network, I guess I’m failing to see where finding a little common ground outside a strictly professional set of questions is a bad thing.

        How many times do we hear that you have to build relationships with people to really get good quality contacts? I seriously cannot think of one single person in my entire career that I had any sort of relationship with beyond acquaintance that did not involve a bit of small talk. I remember Alice’s favorite coffee place in Dallas that quickly became mine. I remember Suzanne’s love of the Outlander books. I remember Kip’s hockey obsession. The whole sort of mentoring thing that came about because Amy and I both have serious girl-crushes on Dave Grohl.

        None of those things are professional at all, and granted none of those people were part of a formal mentoring relationship, but they’re people from whom I learned LOTS about work and professional topics.

        1. Liz T*

          I just think that stuff’s for an in person conversation. It’s weird asking someone, who’s already doing you a favor, to take time to write you an email that’s not work-related. That’s for people who already have some kind of rapport. There’s nothing wrong with mentioning it in conversation if things turn casual, but in this context it’s so random to be bizarre. It reads as saying either, “I think we’re friends” or “I’m trying to pretend we’re friends.”

    3. Jen in RO*

      I agree with Laura. The reply was rude, but I just don’t understand why you’d ask about a movie in a networking e-mail to a person you’ve never met.

      1. Steve*

        I don’t thing the reply was all that rude, however do agree with you that the key point was that the OP had never met her in person. I meet with a lot of networking people and would find it a slight warning sign if someone became chatty over trivial issues before we had actually met.

  17. Neeta*

    Regarding the answer: that was totally uncalled for. Agree with Alison’s view: it’s not like you asked him/her out on a date.

    Now this is slightly off topic, but it’s always bothered me.
    I just don’t get this practice of contacting alumni of your university out of the blue.
    I get reaching out to people you know. I also get reaching out to people that you were referred to, by mutual acquaintances. But just reaching out to someone you’ve never talked to/met, because they are an alumni of the same university…

    If someone this the latter with me, I’d be a bit wary. I mean, isn’t that more or less the same as stopping a virtual stranger on the street? Granted, I am not a particularly social person by nature, so maybe I am looking at it all wrong.
    In any case, I’m not sure I’d be willing to reply to such an e-mail. Let alone act all snobby about their choice of small talk.

    1. OP*

      This is actual a very common practice at my university. I attended the business school, which does a good job of keeping alumni in the loop through practices like matching students to mentors, organizing local networking events, and setting up an online database for alumni. People in the database can indicate whether they are open to being contacted for networking opportunities, and I would only contact those who said they were indeed open.

      1. Rana*

        Yes, that’s how our alumni database works too; people sign up to be mentors or contacts, and are listed as such on their profiles.

    2. Jen in RO*

      I was reading your question and going “yeah, that’s what I was wondering too!”… and then I read the username. So maybe it’s cultural? I would be very surprised if someone e-mailed me just because we happened to go at the same school, but then again, around here I’ve never heard of the kind of mentoring network OP mentions.

      Do people (in the States, at least) have really strong “allegiance”, for lack of a better word, to their alma maters? I talked to maybe 40 people in total in my 4 years of university and I don’t feel kinship with other people who also happened to attend.

      1. Jamie*

        Some people really do. I don’t, and I don’t get it, but it seems more prevalent for certain schools.

        Norte Dame is like a life long family, but Northwestern which is another great school doesn’t have the same type of feel.

        Personally my only response to hearing someone went to my college is, if they are near my age, to desperately hope we never had an embarrassing encounter and if we did that neither will remember.

      2. Neeta*

        Ah good… so it’s not just me. :)

        After reading the OP’s reply, I remembered that my old high school made this website for its alumni, where you can subscribe and offer to give guidance if asked. And I subscribed and said I’d be happy to do that. Heh, whoops.

        As far as I know, this was set up by one of my ex-classmates who graduated from Harvard. She applied for a scholarship, during our senior year. So it’s quite possibly something typical in the US.

      3. Laura L*

        It definitely depends on the school, but also on the person.

        I went to a small liberal arts college and students tend to identify strongly with the school. This makes the alumni network very tight knit. I will help anybody who went to my college, I love meeting people who went there, and I met most of my closest friends there.

        Many alumni feel the same way, but some people don’t. Honestly, I don’t understand NOT feeling connected to you alma mater. :-)

  18. KayDay*

    Here’s what I don’t get: “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.” The OP was attempting to get to know the “professional” on a more personal level. It normally takes a few small-talk-y questions on the path from strangers to besties.

    I would still meet with her, just because someone is a bit rude in their emails doesn’t mean they are a terrible networking contact overall. And always keep in mind that people have very different opinions about lots of job-related things.

  19. Peter*

    If I’m asked about professional matter and I go out of way to help and even am willing to meet in person, I’d be pretty annoyed if the OP tried to sneak in chit chat about film into the conversation (unless the professional area is film-related) — that kinda shows the OP has too much free time to talk on social media with anyone about anything. She told you what she thought about the film, and she told you that she is annoyed if you steer the line of communication away from professional realm. Kudos to her.

      1. Peter*

        Not really. She provided her opinion about the film. Her opinion was the opposite of the OP’s view. Is that a problem? You all guys seem to suggest it’s great to socialize. And when she did, you shoot her down.

        As for the tip she gave — that tip was perfectly valid. The OP networked/pushed her way to that contact’s schedule to get advice and experience. Why are you mad at the contact for giving them?

          1. Peter*

            She said that OP was wrong. Because OP was wrong.

            Wrong in general terms (I don’t see you advising people put pop culture bits to cover letters ;-) and wrong for her in particular (because she prefers to be done with her professional stuff as fast and as efficiently as possible to go to see some film with friends she likes ;-)

            If she ignored the film question, I guess OP could get upset as well. That email exchange was part of the mentoring she was asked to provide. I’d love to have mentor like her.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              The OP may or may not have been wrong in adding the movie reference into her email; reasonable people can disagree about that (and are). But the contact’s response was way over the top in its snottiness. There’s no reason to be a jerk just because she feels she’s in the position of power in the relationship. I’m all for blunt talk — vastly prefer it, in fact — but there’s a difference between blunt/direct and gratuitously rude.

            2. OP*

              I disagree with the idea that I would be upset by her ignoring the question. If she had ignored it, I would have either a) forgotten that I’d asked the questions in the first place, or b) taken that as a subtle hint to stop asking questions like that, which I agree are irrelevant and a waste of her time.

              I was naive, and I asked a dumb question. I do appreciate the fact that she told me that it was a dumb question, but not the way in which she phrased that response.

              I was mainly upset by her approach because of one particular choice word – “ingenuine”. I would not have been offended by words like “unprofessional”, “irrelevant”, “inappropriate”, or even “vacuous”. “Ingenuine” to me reads like a criticism of me as a person rather than my professional conduct.

              1. EJ*

                For what it’s worth, I don’t see ‘ingenuine’ as a personal attack. Also I think the word she meant to use is disingenuous. ;)

                1. Ellie H.*

                  This is *just* pedantry, but I’m now intrigued by thinking about this. I think the meaning is slightly different between ingenuine and disingenuous – I feel like people mostly say “disingenuous” to refer to something that is deliberately trying to seem naive or innocent, yet consciously acting on an agenda. So she could have been calling the movie question “disingenuous” because (in her interpretation) it was an insidious networking stratagem disguised as an innocuous social remark, or it could have been “ingenuine” as in, the OP didn’t really care about her opinion of the movie. Or it could have been both.

                  I mean this lightly and I, myself, am not calling the comment either disingenuous or ingenuine :)

    1. Anonymous*

      You’d be annoyed that someone was trying to be friendly? And, further, that it shows the OP has TOO MUCH FREE TIME?


      1. Neeta*

        Though I agree that in this case, the stupid reply was totally unwarranted. I can kind of see Peter’s point.

        Something similar happened to me with a former client. She was waiting for one of my colleagues to come online, and wanted to do a bit of small talk. She ended up asking me if I was married and had kids. Since we had only made very polite “how’s the weather” kind of chit-chat before, this kind of left me totally shocked.

      2. Peter*

        By sending an email, you “steal” the other party’s time to read it and respond to it. By writing a question, you kinda make the other party “own” you a response. For busy people, questions about pop culture are really out of line.

        1. Esra*

          Wow. It’s not like it was a question personal in nature. You (and I’m sure others) might find a pop culture question silly or unnecessary, but as has been mentioned, it’s really fine to just ignore it.

          If the time spent ready a 1-2 sentence P.S. is more than a person can handle, maybe they shouldn’t be making themselves available for contact on the alumni network.

          1. Kelly O*

            This. Completely.

            If reading one sentence is too much time, then my goodness the OP’s mentor must be the busiest person in the world. And if, rather than either just ignoring it (which would get the point across too) or simply saying “I’d really prefer to keep this on a professional level” the mentor had to go to the trouble of saying she’d heard the opposite in such a way as to imply the OP read a positive review in an Onion article.

            It’s one thing to keep things 100% professional. It’s another to be a jerk about it.

        2. Ellie H.*

          Wow – I hope I never become so incredibly busy that I would think to consider someone sending me an email as “stealing” my time. What an outlook.

          Anyway, if the OP was “stealing” her time, she then proceeded to give a bunch of it away for free by typing out a paragraph of upbraiding.

          1. Jamie*

            If that ever starts to apply to being too verbose in AAM comment posting, I’d better prepare for the class action suit which is probably coming my way.

            It’s just a random question for crying out loud – answer or ignore. No one owes anyone an answer unless you’re in court or an audit.

        3. Anonymous*

          People also “steal” time by writing comments on here. By posting, your stealing time from Alison and other readers.

          See how ridiculous that sounds?

        4. youngun*

          That’s pretty uptight. No one “steals” another person’s time, you have the option of choosing to respond to a particular question or not.


    2. Anonymous*

      ” I’d be pretty annoyed if the OP tried to sneak in chit chat about film into the conversation”

      Oh that foxy OP, trying to sneak in movie chit chat! She’s hiding her real agenda of looking for someone to discuss Adam Sandler with by masking it with networking stuff – but she didn’t fool this lady or you, no sireeeee.

      Really, the OP made one comment about a film in one email and this means she has too much time to talk with anyone about anything? That’s a pretty big leap.

      FWIW: It seems like what happened is the OP wanted to touch base with this woman to confirm their plans and added a friendly comment about something off-topic, probably in an attempt to appear well, friendly. If OP has asked me ahead of time what she should say in this email, I would have said to keep it simple, that you’re just touching base to confirm your meeting on X day and that you really appreciate her time and are looking forward to meeting with her. No need to make small talk in email.

      That said, of the two people in this situation, one person (OP) made a bit of an error in judgment that 99% of people would have ignored. the other person took that opportunity that presented to be nasty and snide and rude. Team OP.

        1. Joanna Reichert*

          Oh. My. Goodness.

          This is the first I’ve heard about this lovely nutjob (when this came out I was in the hospital and otherwise preoccupied.) Wowowowowowowowowowow. Wonder what the heck this psycho is doing now? Terrorizing neighborhood children and snapping the heads off of kittens?

          Sadly . . . . . this woman DOES sound a bit familiar. It’s because I worked under a Humane Society president who wasn’t so terribly far removed from these sorts of outbursts. Ick.

  20. Jane Doe*

    It was maybe a little inappropriate, depending on how you feel about business contacts discussing pop culture, but I don’t think it warranted such a snotty email.

    And it’s not like you asked her who she voted for or what she thinks about third trimester abortions or legalizing marijuana.

    1. fposte*

      I actually wasn’t clear on the point of sending up a followup email in general–it was too far from the actual scheduled lunch to be a confirmation. I’m wondering if the OP was feeling like it would be rude just to stick to the “please help me in my career” topic and wanted to show interest when there wasn’t an immediate request involved, when in fact this is enough of a business correspondence that you don’t want to take it into the social realm unless the senior cues that it’s okay. So I actually do understand if the recipient was a little concerned that these was being perceived as a budding friendship, but that’s not the appropriate way to respond to that.

  21. OP*

    Thank you, Alison, for answering my question! And thanks to everyone who has chimed in here.

    I spent most of Sunday mulling over this issue. Even though I am still a little hurt by the tone of her email, I am now able to look back at it and realize why my bringing up the movie could have been perceived as inappropriate and unprofessional. I should have saved this subject for the coffee chat, not for a quick afterthought at the end of an email.

    I replied to her, basically saying “point taken”, without implying that I was upset, and also said that I looked forward to meeting her. She replied very quickly and said that she was glad I was so receptive to constructive feedback.

    I am going to put my ill feelings aside in preparation for the in-person meeting, which I do believe will be helpful. She went to a fantastic school for her graduate degree, is successful in her company, and probably has a ton of useful advice. It’s just not an opportunity that I can pass up, as I do need a job so badly.

    1. Jamie*

      You seem so reasonable that I’m sure it will go just fine.

      And you weren’t inappropriate or unprofessional…if anything just a little naive which is nothing to be ashamed of.

      I could tell you stories about the unprofessional stuff that’s been asked of me by people who have in the game a long time and should really know better…

      You have an excellent mindset and this will serve you well.

    2. ChristineH*

      Really happy to see you not allowing her email tone to affect you for too long. Please let us know how the coffee chat goes!

  22. Anonymous*

    She was weird and rude, but if I had received your email, I would have thought it was kind of random for you to bring up a movie in a networking email. It’s totally off-topic. I’d keep future networking emails on topic in the future so as not to waste people’s time with random conversation.

  23. Good_Intentions*

    OP, I’m really sorry that you are having this unfortunate experience.

    First, you manage to secure a position shortly after graduating that dries up and leaves you back at square one at the job search.

    Then, you diligently use the resources at your disposal to reach out to successful graduates of your alma mater. This is successful, but you encounter a pretentious woman in her late 20s who chooses to use your email correspondence as means of unfairly critiquing you for attempting innocuous small talk about a movie.

    I truly sympathize with you as someone who has been berated, ignored and actually forgotten when scheduling networking meetings. Please know that this type of unnecessary brusqueness happens occasionally to everyone who networks. Don’t take it personally or allow it to make you blush bright red. It’s not worth your time and energy.

    **NOTE: The word “ingenuous” does not exist, according to (not my preferred source, but it works in this case). Here’s the summary from the website:

    “[Ingenuine is] not yet an actual word. incorrectly used when trying to describe something that is the opposite of “genuine.” usually confused with “Ingenuous” which means “gullible” and “ingenuity” which means “inventive originality.” It is best to use the word ‘DISINGENUOUS’ when you are vying for the antonym of “genuine”.
    Ingenuine is not a word.”


    P.S. When you meet the alumnae for coffee, you might suggest that s/he consider using writing tools such as dictionary and thesaurus when drafting professional correspondence as to avoid coming across as uneducated and unprofessional. Of course, such a critique would greatly limit your networking opportunities with him/her and the company. You’ll have to determine if the potential reward of making him/her blush with humiliation is worth the it to you.

    1. JP*

      “Ingenuous” is a real word, according to Merriam-Webster. (Sorry, but Urbandictionary is a wiki site for people to input slang, and not an actual, approved dictionary. See the fact that my friends and I input a definition of the term “Bill Nye”: a paper written by a student that is so bad, it deserves no other grade than a frowny face written in cat feces.)

      Per Merriam Webster:
      Main Entry: in·gen·u·ous Pronunciation Guide
      Pronunciation: dotted schwanprimarystressjenyschwawschwas
      Function: adjective
      Etymology: Latin ingenuus, from in- 2in- + -genuus (akin to Latin gignere to beget, bring forth) — more at KIN
      1 : FREEBORN
      2 obsolete : of a superior character : NOBLE, HONORABLE
      3 : marked by lack of reserve, dissimulation, or guile: a : showing innocent or childlike simplicity, straightforwardness, frankness b : marked by lack of subtle analysis or consideration : SIMPLE, UNWARY, UNAWARE, OPEN
      4 [by alteration (influence of Latin ingeniosus ingenious)] obsolete : INGENIOUS

      1. Ellie H.*

        I think Good_Intention’s first sentence, “The word ‘ingenuous’ does not exist, according to” suffered from autocomplete and that he or she may have meant to write “The word ‘ingenuine'” instead? Also I was waffling upthread about how I think “disingenuous” and the apparently non real word “ingenuine” have somewhat different meanings. I think there’s a place for ingenuine, though.

        1. JP*

          Ahh, yes! I had been having so much fun going through the comments that I forgot to reread the initial wording in OP’s message! Looks like we both slipped. Still UrbanDictionary…fun, but not the best source!

          1. Ellie H.*

            And now I’m thinking about how “ingenuity” is totally different from “ingenuineness.” These things are interesting to contemplate.

            1. Jamie*

              This is such a perfect example of why I love it here.

              I go off on word tangents at home and my family looks at me like I just escaped from the zoo. They are of the “you know what was meant so what difference does it make” school of vocabulary most of the time…which makes me so sad.

              It’s the nuances that are fascinating.

        2. Good_Intentions*

          You’re right, Ellie!

          Sometimes technology does more to hinder than help.

          I can’t edit my comment, can I?

      2. Good_Intentions*


        I am happy to stand corrected then. It sounded very odd to me, so I Google searched and pulled from one of the top sites posted.

        My apologies. It seems in my impatience I did not do as thorough a search as I could have.

        Thanks for the update.

        1. JP*

          Good_Intentions: No worries! I think that Urban Dictionary is super-popular in the SEO findings, which is why it makes sense that it would come up. I’m just a huge source-nerd. Anyway, we both got things a little off. :-) Have a great night!

  24. Snow Hill Pond*

    Umm, the OP paraphrases her “movie” email yet quotes the offending response verbatim. We’re not seeing the complete story.

    1. fposte*

      Unless she said “Only an idiot wouldn’t like this movie,” it’s not going to justify the snottiness of the response.

    2. Anonymous*

      The movie question part of the OP’s email is in quotation marks. I take that to mean it’s a, y’know, quote (and not a paraphrase).

  25. Heather*

    Honestly I would just ignore her response. Should the OP have included the thing about the movie? Maybe, maybe not. Regardless it is not a faux pas worthy of the response. I still think that person was incredibly rude.

    I would however be tempted to respond with what Good Intentions said but only because I’m like that. ;)

  26. Jamie*

    There is a problem for the rude would-be mentor as well, that she may want to consider.

    Someone touched on it upthread about these little comments are how she’ll be remembered.

    There have been people early in my career who made snide little comments. Back when I was the office manager the way they referred to me as “support staff” with an insulting tone that was accompanied by nose crinkling…

    But that was a long time ago and things change…and some people (like the nose crinkler) stay in the same job and other people (ahem) move on. And if she applied here guess who would be the one vetting her resume? And who was already the one who turned down her linkedin invite because she was so syrupy about where I’m at in my career now.

    Yeah – you really can’t assume that people who are just starting out are going to remain there and that you won’t someday need a favor from someone who remembers all too well how crappy you treat people when you can.

    I mean treating people decently is just the nice thing to do – but there is also some political currency to be gained by being an asshat as well.

    1. Jamie*

      Sorry – by not being an asshat. Funny how the absence of three letters can change the whole meaning of a sentence.

  27. Jesicka309*

    I must know because its killing me: WHAT WAS THE MOVIE?!? My curiosity is killing me!
    On a side note, I was a film major in my course. If I was networking with someone who was also a film major and they brought up the great new Adam Sandler flick, I’d be questioning whether I wanted to network with them any more. It may be a great trashy film that’s your guilty pleasure, but I’m still judging. It seems like this contact was offended because it was a horribly executed film. Just my two cents.

    1. OP*

      I’m sorry but I really would rather not disclose the name of the film, mainly because I feel that taste in movies is subjective, and the focus of this situation should be on her and my professionalism, not the movie itself. I will say that it was released recently and is rated 8.0+ on imdb, so I was quite baffled by her negative opinion…

      1. Anonymous*

        I’m sorry but I really would rather not disclose the name of the film, mainly because I feel that taste in movies is subjective […].

        With all due respect, you did ask your networking contact for her opinion, which follows under the category of being a subjective taste. Furthermore, in that case, the movie you’re referring to you say has an 8.0, which means there were people with negative thoughts on it; otherwise it would have 10. Was she still rude to you? Yes. She may make a valid point, but she was not diplomatic in her words with you.

        My guess, anyway, is Lincoln. I just looked it up on, and it is at an 8.3.

      2. Anon*

        “I really would rather not disclose the name of the film, mainly because I feel that taste in movies is subjective”

        That is exactly why the movie should never have been brought up at this stage. You barely know her so you have no idea what her tastes may be. (being purposefully ridiculous) She may only enjoy black and white silent films and therefore think anything with color or sound is poorly executed. The point is, you just don’t know, so at this stage steer clear and stick to the purpose you contacted her originally, for networking and career advice.

        Look at this from her perspective for a minute. She is taking time out of her (presumably) busy schedule to help someone she doesn’t know just on the basis of having gone to the same school and you reaching out. You contacted her for professional advice. To then start a conversation about movies can be seen as rude and disrespectful of the time she is freely giving you. Was her response rude, yes, but in this context I can understand why she would be a bit snappy in her response having just received what she may have perceived as a rude/disrespectful email.

        In terms of professionalism, you were wrong to bring up movies/pop culture type topics before you had an established relationship, she was wrong to be so rude in her response. Plenty of blame for everybody.

        In terms of fresh out of college networking contacts that have reached out to me, topics that were not specifically work related but still seemed appropriate were (in addition to the work related content): “I’m coming to interview next week, is there any place you could recommend for dinner? (my company flies people in the night before)” or “I received an offer from X department and plan to accept, is there any specific areas/apartment complexes you or your coworkers would recommend/recommend avoiding for someone that is used to living in (city/suburbs/rural/ whatever)?”. Obviously in these cases the contact was looking at my specific company not just the industry in general, but the thought is still the same. Requesting help/advice on something somewhat related to finding a fit with the employer /industry (i.e. will they like living in the area) rather than just making chit-chat so they can say they are “networking”.

  28. Anon*

    I haven’t seen this mentioned yet, but is the OP a man or a woman? I hate to say it, but if the OP is a man, there is a gender dynamic here, where I could see why the alumna was a little put off. Sure, she handled it badly, but it’s possible she is in an industry where innocent questions like this very quickly turn into less innocent questions.

    (and yes, by asking if the OP is a man, I am giving a heteronormative view, but the fact of the matter is that the male/female dynamic is the one that plays out most often in the workplace)

  29. Gem*

    I agree, wat was the movie and what is the gender of the two people involved?

    Those are HUGE questions, maybe one party felt the other party was fishing for a date?

  30. Diane*

    OP, one nice thing about learning that your mentor has a character flaw like pomposity and asshattery is that you don’t have to suffer through your first meeting feeling intimidated. She’s just a schmuck. You may learn some valuable things, and you may not. But you don’t have to worry about impressing her because she’s shown you that her opinions are, at best, poorly expressed. So enjoy. And update us please!

  31. Amber*

    I have to disagree with a lot of people here. Though her response isn’t the nicest, she is going out of her way to give a stranger some professional advice and she simply continued to fulfill this role in her email response to the OP. The OP’s email did come off sounding generic and weird and I think she did the OP a favor by saying so. Personally, I think that in wasting her time by attempting to chit chat about non-professional topics, the OP was being more rude than the email response was.

    Learn from it and let it go.

  32. Sara*

    I agree that the reply sounded curt but I sense more is going on here with the comment that she felt the off-topic remarks like pop culture sounded not genuine. Based on the OP’s email it did one across as trying hard to socially connect and didn’t really fit their current relationship. As minor as that is, I sense the mento is just annoyed and is over the “falseness” it didn’t help that she didn’t like the movie, and I think said so just to make her point on how unnecessary the ps movie question is. I do agree with her to keep the contact strictly professional until you’ve met face to face to develop more of a connection.

  33. Trace*

    And if I said “point taken” as a reply sounds defensive / abrupt / annoyed? You see how easily the tone is taken out of context? (I’m assuming here that suggester / op didn’t have the intention of being rude.)

  34. Chocolate Teapot*

    I was at a concert last night with a high profile singer. It had been sponsored by a big bank, and so its logo was plastered all over the programmes and posters.

    The bank was using the interval for a networking cocktail party, and I noticed some people I had met at other events. I think in this context, it is fine to say “I saw you at the concert. What did you think?”

  35. Sheri G*

    I didn’t read through ALL the comments, so I apologize if this is a duplicate suggestion.

    At this point, I would not cancel the coffee. Although you may be cautious about her opinions, cancelling may be a “burning of bridge” of sorts. Cancelling may be taken negatively. One of the main objectives of networking, is to build upon the people you know in your profession an industry.

    Your meeting with this person can still help you accomplish this, as you don’t yet know where your relationship with her can take you. So, have coffee, conversation and be appreciative, friendly and professional.

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