update from the reader who was chastised by a networking contact

We had a letter last week from someone who had been chastised by a networking contact. She’d asked her contact — a fellow alumna — about whether she’d seen a particular movie. The contact responded by first criticizing the movie, noting that others shared her opinion, and then telling her not to ask “vacuous and ingenuine” questions. Here’s her update:

I just wanted to thank you again for not only answering my question but also letting me hear from other readers. I did go on to meet the contact in person, and wanted to give you an update on what happened.

I responded to the contact’s initial email, saying that I appreciated her advice, “point taken”, and that I looked forward to meeting her in person. She replied very quickly: “I am glad you are so receptive to constructive criticism. Look forward to meeting you also.”

We had coffee this week, near her workplace. To be honest, I was surprised when I met her. In person, she was very small, had a pleasant smile, and spoke in a very soft and feminine voice. She asked me to tell her about myself. Then she told me about herself. And then she had a lot to say on the subject of networking:

– “I know I probably gave you a lot to think about in that email I sent you, but you should understand that it wasn’t me putting you down as a person. It was me, as an objective third party, telling you exactly what’s wrong with your networking tactics and how to fix them. I am a very honest person, and I have definitely had many young people reach out to me in the past, saying that they want my honest advice, and then when I do give it, they can’t take the honesty. And I think it says a lot of good things about you in the way you responded to me without letting my comments affect your professionalism.”

– “As long as you’re unemployed, you should follow up with me via email once every 2 months. If you become employed, you should let me know, and then follow up with me twice a year.”

– “Don’t ask me about my personal life unless I brought it up first.”

– “It’s fine to ask me what I thought about something as long as it’s directly related to my job or my industry. You can pass along an interesting article and say, ‘hey, this made me think of you! Any thoughts?’ But don’t bring up topics that are irrelevant.”

– “Don’t listen to the career center at our alma mater. Most of the people there have never worked outside universities and have no idea what the hiring process is really like. Be very skeptical of any advice that they may give you, and if you’re not sure about whether something is professional behavior or not, ask me.”

At the end of the conversation, she agreed to conduct a mock interview with me in the near future. She also asked me for a copy of my resume and said that she would keep me in mind for any openings that she comes across.

That evening, she forwarded me a job listing with another company that was a perfect match for me. Although the listing was posted publicly, it had never shown up in any of the job boards that I frequent. I was ecstatic and applied immediately.

I am grateful for how this meeting turned out. Although the email exchange initially caused me a great deal of discomfort and embarrassment, I’m glad I was able to “suck it up” and handle it the way I did. I have to admit that my initial feelings about her didn’t completely fade away, but I do really appreciate her willingness to help me when I have nothing to offer her in return (she insisted on paying for my coffee!), and I think this could potentially develop into a good mentor-mentee relationship.

Thanks again to everyone who weighed in!

Hmm. I’m glad this worked out for you, and it’s a testament to how it’s worth meeting with people who you might not feel especially warm toward.

That said, she still strikes me as snooty.  And I’m a direct person who values directness in others, but you can be direct without losing all tact and kindness.

Rather than saying, “Don’t ask me about my personal life unless I brought it up first” and “Don’t bring up topics that are irrelevant,” there’s no reason she couldn’t have said something like, “I’d love to help you if I can, but because I have a busy schedule and get a lot of these requests, it tends to be easier for me if we stick to professional topics. I don’t mean to sound unfriendly; I’ve just learned from experience that I’m able to do more of this if we keep it very focused on the professional sphere.”

(And frankly, I’d even argue the validity of that position. I’m efficient to a fault — including sometimes in social situations when I shouldn’t be — and even I can’t see how spending 60 seconds answering a question about a movie is going to make or break her. Maybe she has trouble setting boundaries and has let similar relationships drift too far into the personal in the past, but unless she has a serious deficiency in that area, I can’t really see her stance as warranted … although it’s still certainly her prerogative.)

In any case, it goes to show that someone can be snooty and still helpful. Thanks for updating us!

{ 137 comments… read them below }

      1. Zee*

        Yeah, but Miranda Priestly would say “Don’t bother me with your questions.” (referencing Calvin Klein skirts scene)

    1. Jamie*

      Some good advice in there – but agreed on the snoot factor.

      Shades of the whole Queen of England thing: “You will not speak unless spoken to.” Or how Jenny McCarthy had signs up back stage on Singled Out that the contestants weren’t to speak to her or make eye contact with her unless she initiated it.

      So in my head the would be mentor is a cross between Queen Elizabeth and Jenny McCarthy. That’s some hybrid.

        1. Jamie*

          Oh crap – I hope so since it’s been rattling around the recesses of my brain for the last 100 years. It’s entirely possible I’m remembering wrong or, more likely, that it was something the producers instituted to keep all the drunk and grabby hands off of her.

          For the record, in case Jenny or any of her legal team are reading this, I meant nothing libelous in my attempt to create a monarchy-MTV hybrid and I really liked her guest spot on Charmed. :)

        2. Greg*

          Because you had such respect for her tireless efforts to promote scientific quackery in trying to link vaccines to autism?

      1. A Bug!*

        How are people supposed to know if she is initiating eye contact if they aren’t allowed to look her in the eye?

        Then again, I think I just answered my own question.

    2. Ryan*

      Yeah…not a fan of the “eat my sh*t and then tell me how good it tastes” attitude but the job market sucks so I guess take the help wherever you can get it.

    3. Crazy for TEAPOTS!*


      I am curious so I’d like to get opinions please.

      Do you think that if it had been a male that had given her the snooty feedback that it would have been interpreted as such? Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) talks about this in her TED talk – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18uDutylDa4&feature=youtu.be – at minute 7:43.

      And if you don’t know what TED talks are, you are really missing out!

  1. Deirdre*

    and sometimes others serve as a reminder on how not behavior. When you, OP, have the opportunity to help someone through networking, you will have a better sense of how to be direct without being haughty.

    One comment – I work in higher education and we have some in our career development who have had robust careers outside academia. I wouldn’t be so quick to eliminate them as a resource. If you don’t like their advice, that’s fine – but they may have a ton of resources and connections. Doesn’t hurt to ask.

  2. EJ*

    Its very possible we are getting a condensed version of the verbal conversation from the OP – unless this was an email followup.

    This ended up being a positive experience for the OP. Its wonderful if she can learn to accept this sort of straight shooter honest feedback with professionalism. This will not be the only person like this that she encounters.

    Honestly, her willingness to help a stranger, and her pretty good advice, outweighs which words she chooses, in my opinion.

    1. OP*

      Yes, agreed!

      Also wanted to note that these quotes in themselves were not condensed; for about 15 minutes, she was basically rattling them off one after the other, while I took notes. There were other pieces of advice, like “don’t add someone on LinkedIn unless you know them in real life” and “if you ever need to be in touch, don’t call me; always email me first”, but I thought they were pretty much common sense, and didn’t want to clutter my update email, which was already long.

      1. books*

        So she has a collection of one (or two or three) liners about how to network with her? Sounds like she might be over-extending herself in helping to network with young alums and needs to scale back.

      2. Jenn*

        Her delivery is just so odd, though! “…Don’t call me, always email me first”? It’d be much more polite to simply say that the best way to reach her is via email. Does this woman have any social graces at all??

        1. Ellie H.*

          I kind of agree, Jenn . . . It sounds like she just rattled off a list of very specific instructions about how to interact with her. She’s just one person and what makes her the end-all be-all expert on this stuff? I was a bit taken aback by “If you’re not sure about whether something is professional behavior or not, ask me.” Why would she know the answer to that more than another well-established career person? She’s just another person with her own specific preferences, not the world’s definitive authority on networking.

      3. Steve G*

        You took notes? Did she pressure you into that???? I hated when I was very new to the work world and my bosses made me take notes in meetings on EVERYTHING. On stuff that was so common sense there was no reason in the world to write it down

  3. sr*

    I don’t see what the fuss is about what she said. Is it that people automatically imagine the OP’s mentor saying these things in a snooty tone? I think it all comes down to context and delivery of each and every one of these quotes, which I don’t think we can infer here. For instance, AM maybe she did say those things in context, but the quote was the key takeaway.

    1. Ariancita*

      I agree. Plus, for me (and for OP, it may be different), even if it is a snooty tone, what she’s willing to do for the OP outweighs it. It’s so hard for the unemployed right now, especially new grads, and this person is willing to help out someone she doesn’t know. She’s providing something valuable in exchange for nothing, so to me, the snooty tone (if it is in fact there) is nothing compared to the invaluable service. But maybe it’s just me. I’m not bothered so much by these kinds of things.

  4. Neeta*

    For some reason, when I read the list of networking rules she set up I was reminded of an old regency-era matron who’s chastising young ladies about the proper etiquette to hold a fan.

    In any case, I’m glad this all worked out for you. Wish you the best with the job you applied for.

    1. Marly King*

      THIS! I was definitely picturing a Maggie Smith a la Downton Abbey type woman reciting proper etiquette rules here! :)

      1. mimimi*

        I think the OP’s would-be mentor IS being snooty and unnecessarily rude. She’s got rules? She dictated a list of rules?

        Of course, if she *was* Maggie Smith, then she behaved perfectly. Because Maggie Smith is divine and can do no wrong. If Dame M.S. told me off in any context I would LOVE IT.

  5. KayDay*

    hmmm….this lady seems very self-important.

    Her advice isn’t bad (I actually tend to agree with a lot of it), it’s just poorly delivered and a bit…odd.

    If you have the patience to deal with her and follow her rules, I think she would be a great person to stay in touch with. Offering to conduct a mock interview is really going above and beyond. However, please keep in mind that only a few normal people believe in such strict rules. Many different opinions abound, especially regarding such personal preferences such as how often to contact them.

    1. Esra*

      I think you’re right about it being odd. The quotes still struck me as weird, even though some of the advice is good.

      I think what you’ve said here about only a few people wanting this kind of strict interaction is very true and ties in well with Deidre’s point above. You can learn a lot from mentors and managers, and sometimes it’s learning what kind of mentor/manager you don’t want to be.

  6. pan*

    I attended an interview 2 days back.HR called me several times to send resume.I was the one who called early and i was also given special treatment.Once the HR round was finished.I met manager he questioned me on the latest technologies that were used in my current company.He told me to attend technical round.Later he told me that he will recommend HR to inform me that when will be the technical interview. He also told me that Later you have to meet MD on another round…But
    When i called HR regarding the job interview.She replied me that “Your resume is on hold”.I asked her whether there will be interview or not.Then she replied me that “May be on Saturday”
    I am confused What it means “Resume on Hold”May be on next Saturday”……..???
    I am really disappointed

    1. nyxalinth*

      I’m not quite sure I understand all of that, but also, I haven’t had my coffee yet! Did they ask you to contact HR about the next interview, who then blew you off? Or were you calling them more than once on your own?

      If it’s the first, I’d say crappy company to work for possibly, and it’d be a good idea to view this as having avoided a bad situation. If it was the second, do keep in mind it’s no longer a good idea to call HR repeatedly. As AAM says, they already know you’re interested, and you risk alienating them possibly.

      1. pan*

        Ya i will be cautious.One thing is sure that I never called HR.I en- quired her “whether there will be interview or not”when she replied me as “your resume is on hold”.

  7. Anonymous*

    I don’t think it’s snooty (which I take to mean thinking you are too good for someone or snobby) as it is socially awkward and ill-mannered. There’s a line btw direct and rude (and that line is different for everyone so YMMV) and IMO, those kind of comments fall on the rude side. Because she is giving her time to this person though, I don’t think she intends to be rude and bossy, I think she’s just a bit inept at social interactions.

    1. OP*

      The funniest thing is that some of these statements can look a certain way on paper, but in person she just had this tiny soft voice and a sweet southern accent, and it sounded much more pleasant!

      1. Anonymous*

        I don’t think it really sounds snooty— I think it just is presented in a no-frills and direct manner!

      2. ChristineH*

        That just shows how easily something could be misinterpreted in writing since you don’t have the benefit of tone of voice, personality, etc. Yes it probably is a bit more a direct manner than I would’ve liked, but if you’re okay with it, OP, then that’s what counts. Different strokes for different folks :)

      3. sr*

        Yes, this was my point in fact in my comment above. Context and delivery are everything.
        Also, I took her notes as general guidelines, not strict rules like some others have perceived them.

      4. Kelly O*

        It takes a particularly special sort of person to tell you to go to hell in such a way that you look forward to the trip.

      5. Elizabeth*

        It may be that because of her soft voice & accent that she’s had to develop a more brusque demenor to be taken seriously. I’ve had to work on lowering the pitch I speak in (so I speak in alto range, rather than soprano) and projecting a bit more so that people give me more weight.

        1. Ellie H.*

          This is a good point – I have a pretty squeaky voice (it’s not too common, but callers who don’t know me sometimes ask me if my mom is home when I answer my phone) and I noticed that when I would make a point in my college classes, I would unconsciously pitch my voice lower.

      6. BW*

        That’s actually interesting to know. Now I can’t decide if she’s just inept at social interactions or she’s the strict and proper southern lady that my southern friends occasionally mock . Perhaps she is both.

    1. CareerLady*

      Funniest comment this and Kelly O. I wonder what the OP will think about this experience in a few years when s/he has more experience under their belt and other mentor/tee relationships.

      Alison was dead on about the tone…

      My first (post-grad) mentor was a high level executive. She was a little thing but had a very rich voice and was more than direct. She never made me feel like I was ‘hijacking’ her time.

      When she retired, EVERYONE (at least that I met) was sad to see her go. It was at that point she told me that she was so glad her colleagues twisted her arm to be a mentor (I never knew she was not initially into it). The point is, she found a way to be respectful, tactful, and honest…without making me feel put-off. BTW, she also made me feel like my time was JUST as valuable as hers. Looking back, that alone was priceless.

  8. GBV34*

    I must say, the tone Allison suggests – “Please be aware I have a busy schedule and I may not have time to reply to person emails” as opposed to “Don’t ask me about my personal life” – is exactly the tone I always maintain in my business dealings. I am always surprised when people tell me to “cut out the obsequious BS” (which one guy did) or insist on exchanging 5-word emails like “Not free Tuesday, hb Wed” when I’m more likely to say “so sorry, I have a prior commitment on Tuesday, but might you be available Wednesday?”

    1. Ellie H.*

      Wow, I can’t believe someone would say something as rude as “cut out the obsequious BS” especially when sending such an email takes markedly more effort than reading a fifteen as opposed to five word sentence written in full-length English words.

  9. MP*

    See, again, I think we’re reading “Don’t ask me about my personal life unless I brought it up first” as a personal preference (i.e. she’s dictating how to interact with her) instead of general advice about this kind of networking (i.e. don’t pry into personal details with your networking contacts — it’s a professional relationship).

    I agree that the bullet-pointed list above makes her sound pretty rude, but I think she’s giving really good tips about networking.

    1. K*

      Making chit chat about a movie isn’t prying into someone’s personal details. (Okay, unless it’s a porno, I guess.)

      1. Anonymous*

        I think what she’s saying is people don’t want to chit-chat!! If you’re e-mailing your career advice/assistance, don’t waste the other person’s time with chit-chat… and I think she’s 100% right.

        1. KayDay*

          But the way the contact presented her opinion came across as her stating that her personal preference is the only way to do things. While you (and I, as well) don’t care for chit-chat, it wouldn’t be hard to find someone who feels the exact opposite. (I’ve noticed that this blog skews hard towards the no chit-chat types, but out in the real world there are definitely plenty of chit-chat-ers, imo).

          Because there are plenty of people who feel that a “personal touch” (i.e. small talk) is the way to go, I would never hold it against someone if they made an effort at small talk. If it got on my nerves I would let them know that “I would prefer to focus on careers and not personal topics.”

          1. Kelly L.*

            There was actually a huge thread just a few weeks ago where not chit-chatting was roundly condemned as too abrupt! :D

        2. fposte*

          And saying that would be clear enough. But she really wanted to punish the OP for bringing up the movies by denigrating her opinion itself, as if the problem wasn’t small talk but small talk the OP apparently wasn’t qualified to make.

        3. Sdhr*

          She doesn’t want to chit chat. I, however, like people and am busy and successful and enjoy a chit chat as much as anyone else under the right circumstances. A better point for OPs mentor to make would be that it’s best to hold the chit chat until you know the persons preferences, take your use from the other, etc.

      2. Anne*

        Well… just to play devil’s advocate…

        I’m a professional woman in my early 20s. Because of how career-oriented I am, and how very non-traditional my personal life is, I try to keep the two as separate as possible. If you ask me about a movie you think I might like, it’s entirely possible that I’ll need to hold back a rant about how much I hate romantic comedies, or worse, immediately quash the “Oh yeah, the girlfriend and I are going to see that on Friday” answer – especially as you’ve probably already tried to get me into the excited discussions about my upcoming wedding to my lovely male fiance.

        If I ask you about a movie, on the other hand, you might think I’m either weird or pandering to what I think YOUR taste will be, because I’ll almost certainly be asking about the next film in the Avengers franchise.

        It’s just kind of… stuff like this opens discussions on what taste people have in their personal life. I’m okay to discuss that on a certain level with co-workers, but I don’t want every business contact knowing I’m into symphonic rock and metal, weight lifting, and superhero movies, you know? Of course I’ll lie about it, but that’s just another level of superficiality added to a business relationship, when you’re ostensibly trying to make it LESS superficial.

        I would say… just work with someone on a business level until things like “Hey have you seen this movie” come up naturally because you know them pretty well.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          A hatred of romantic comedies or a love of the Avengers doesn’t strike me as particularly personal or sensitive; those are both pretty mainstream viewpoints to hold. Gay marriage is mainstream in many circles too, although I take your point that it’s not everywhere.

          Regardless, though, it’s fine not to want to veer into the personal, and it would have been fine for the contact to simply say that. It’s the WAY she’s saying this stuff that’s at issue.

          1. Anne*

            In this particular case it’s actually that I do have a male fiance and a girlfriend. I’m used to being deeply in the closet about poly at work – even here in the UK I’m not convinced it’s covered by anti-discrimination law (or my workplace’s policies. And just try clarifying those policies without outing yourself!) But it has had the effect that I tend towards not asking personal questions, because I really appreciate how tiring it can be to keep up appearances.

            All the same, I do agree, for the most part. This type of situation rarely comes up for me, but when it does, I also try to be much more polite about it than this lady was. Just playing devil’s advocate.

  10. Colette*

    I’d add that, while you should use your own judgement about anything from a career center, you should also use your own judgement about anything she says – because while she may prefer you to interact with her in one way, not everyone likes the same kinds of interactions. (And the specific timeframe for followups seems overly specific – I wonder what her reaction would be if you followed up every three months instead of every two, but I don’t suggest you try it.)

  11. fposte*

    I join the thinking that she’s got some startlingly draconian rules that are somewhat stricter than that of the Queen, but this really is a great illustration of why a knee-jerk dismissal of somebody is a bad plan. They’re peculiar requests but they’re clear and they don’t require a whole lot of the OP. OP, I think you’ve been really exemplary on this, I’m delighted it’s led to a great possibility, and I think this is a great story of how to negotiate a prickly situation rather than backing away and losing potential.

  12. Joey*

    C’mon Alison,
    You’re sounding like you don’t want to admit your initial assessment was wrong, no? She sounds like she has a strong opinion, a particular style that’s not for everyone, but generally a good resource.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I still think she’s a jerk, but as I say above, it’s a demonstration that even jerks can be worth forming relationships with. You’re right that in my original post I questioned what the value of her advice would be though — that’s why I think this is such an interesting outcome and such a good lesson (for all of us, me included).

      1. Joey*

        That’s what I’ve seen- there are tons of really smart business people out there that come across as bitchy or aholes but if you can shield yourself from taking it personal you can frequently still learn a whole lot from them. I’ve seen bosses make people cry because they were so upset at a poor work product. And these are bosses people want to work for because the good outweighs the bad. And while it would be nice to find another job it’s extremely hard to find a job where you won’t have to deal with jerks. So on some level you have to tell yourself you’re not going to take it personal or allow people to make you upset, anxious, whatever. I know that’s not ideal, but we all know people don’t make you upset without you allowing them to.

      2. KarenT*

        I agree with Alison 100%. This woman (the mentor, not Alison!) sounds very high on herself. It just comes out in the way she speaks. It’s like the rules the British get for dealing with the Queen.

        As long as you’re unemployed, you should follow up with me via email once every 2 months. If you become employed, you should let me know, and then follow up with me twice a year.
        Uhh, yes m’am? It would be very different if she said “you may find this style of networking helpful. It’s a good idea to follow up periodically, and let your contacts know when you are employed.” As in not to decree “you shall contact me on the following dates.”

        Don’t listen to the career center at our alma mater. Most of the people there have never worked outside universities and have no idea what the hiring process is really like. Be very skeptical of any advice that they may give you, and if you’re not sure about whether something is professional behavior or not, ask me.
        I’m all for warning students that career centres aren’t always in the know, but this really comes off that she is declaring herself the be all and end all of professional behaviour.

        1. Sdhr*

          People do outgrow their mentors. I see OP’s flexibility and openness leading to her outgrowing this mentor early in her career.

    2. fposte*

      The whole “you’re so stupid to say anything good about this movie” thing is still weirdly petulant and punitive, and it makes it clear this isn’t just somebody with a strict work focus who doesn’t brook conversation about anything else.

      She also clearly has many strengths and has much to teach the OP, but they don’t erase the fact that she went slightly haywire.

    3. Jamie*

      Being a good resource and being unpleasant aren’t mutually exclusive.

      I worked for someone who could have taken first in the Rude and Crazy Olympics – but was brilliant and I learned more from him about certain aspects of operations than I could have learned in a million years from others who I would have much preferred to meet for coffee.

      1. Kelly O*

        This is exactly what I was thinking.

        I know some brilliant people with wonderful ideas who make porcupines making nests in cactus plants look cuddly.

        It’s like anything else, you have to weed out what is applicable and what is not, and bear in mind everyone has their own preferred way of doing things. More than half the challenge of networking effectively is navigating personalities and sussing out how best to approach or follow up with someone. This person sounds like a fairly solid object lesson in that.

        I must say, points to you for making lemonade out of the lemons though. That will help you more than anything else!

      2. ChristineH*

        You and Kelly O are much bigger than I am…I think I’d be absolutely miserable being in that kind of environment, even if my own working relationship with such a person were positive. Not work related, but I had a choir director like this in college…he and I got along great (I took one-on-one singing lessons with him too), but his comments when a particular section messed up even one note made me just want to crawl into a hole and stay there.

  13. ChristineH*

    Honestly, I think it would have been more helpful if she had given the OP general networking advice while also mentioning her own preferences. For example, she could say, “Some people suggest you do X although I prefer Y”. But it sounds like the conversation was very beneficial to the OP, and that is what matters. Good luck with the job lead!!

  14. Brightwanderer*

    I’ve got to say that the whole thing with putting the OP down rudely in the email and then following up with “I’m so glad you can take criticism” is a waving red flag for me… my experience has been that that specific phrasing is deployed by people who will accept no disagreement and expect you to bow to their opinion on everything. I’d definitely think twice about working for her – but since that’s not the issue, and if you can get by without being irritated by her manner, it’s good that she’s given you useful resources to pursue.

    1. some1*

      That’s what I thought, too. I feel like the contact insulting the LW’s taste in movies was just some Mean Girl test. Obviously, everyone needs to learn to take constructive criticism if they are going to have any job, but there were way more constructive ways for the contact to let the LW know that in her opinion, chit-chat about movies doesn’t belong in conversations to business contacts.

      1. moe*

        Ah, I see we had a similar thought about it being a “test”–but I don’t necessarily see it as a red flag, just an acknowledgment that many young people aren’t seeking the kind of feedback she has to offer, so why not cut to the chase? Frankly, I’d find a movie comment a little weird in email #2.

        Some people are just a little rough around the edges. Oh well.

    2. KayDay*

      ” my experience has been that that specific phrasing is deployed by people who will accept no disagreement and expect you to bow to their opinion on everything.” That’s been my experience as well. I’ve had similar experiences as well with people who get really gung-ho about patting themselves on the back for being honest and direct. (Not to be confused with people who simply prefer honesty and direct-ness, without making a gigantic deal about it.)

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yup. Everyone I’ve known who loudly praises themselves for their brutal honesty has been more focused on the brutality than the honesty.

        1. A Bug!*

          “Brutally honest” people are also often people who take even tactful criticism really, really poorly. See also people who self-describe with “tough love”.

          These people are quite different from the genuinely “honest to a fault” people, who in my experience are just as willing to give genuine consideration to others’ criticism as they expect others to give to their own.

        2. Diane*

          OMG, yes. Those who loudly proclaim their love of honesty and directness rarely can handle it from others.

    3. Marly King*

      I also felt like the whole “don’t listen to anyone but me” comments were red flags as well. Coupled with the “glad you can take the (UNWARRANTED) criticism” sounds like the mentor could have the tendency to be abusive/controlling.

      1. Ellie H.*

        Yes, to me she seems unduly focused on getting her own way in dictating the terms of the interaction. I understand that she’s being very helpful to the OP, but I still find it weird in the sphere of typical human interaction that she is so fixated on dictating the nature of their encounters, including using specific phrases, and presenting herself as the ultimate authority on correct behavior.

        1. Jamie*

          Exactly – which would make sense if this was only in reference to the OP applying at her workplace – which I didn’t take to be the case.

          I mean, if you were applying to where I was working I could probably give you more specific advice about what would be most helpful with these specific people in this specific environment – but in general? Kind of arrogant to assume you’re the standard bearer on what’s professional and what works.

          1. ChristineH*

            That’s pretty much what I was thinking in my post above, but you guys said it much better than I did.

  15. Anonymous*

    Maybe the networking contact isn’t friendly, but she sure is nice. Goodness knows I’ve met many friendly people who aren’t nice. It’s not often the unfriendly are acknowledged as nice.

    Of course every networking contact won’t use the exact same set of rules, but I bet they all use 80-90% of them. The OP (as well as those of us who are ignorant about this topic) has learned a good framework for interacting with networking contacts knowing the rules will be different for each.

    I see no harm. I see no foul. I definitely prefer the truly direct nature of the “snooty” one over AAM’s version of “direct.”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Really? Does the message not come through, assuming the person is paying attention? That’s a sincere question, not a rhetorical one; I can’t see how someone would miss the message there.

        And I say this as someone who has gotten bad results by being too direct many times and has had to learn to take the few seconds of extra time to make things less abrasive.

        1. Kelly O*

          Alison, I felt this way too. I guess since I got so much “you’re too abrupt/direct/whatever” early on in my career, I’ve focused on delivering the same message in a different way.

          I don’t think it’s beating around the bush, but what would you rather hear?

          Kelly, you’re just being stupid about this. Stop talking about movies and listen to me.

          Kelly, let’s think about another way of looking at this. Instead of discussing a movie, what is a more professional topic you could raise? Let me share my thoughts.

          (Now, granted the closeness of my relationship to you will directly impact which response is appropriate. But a cool networking contact? I can tell you which one wouldn’t make me want to storm off.)

    1. A Bug!*

      I think the place where she crossed the line from “direct” to “snooty” is where she offered her judgment to the OP regarding the movie itself. If she’d left it as “This is an inappropriate networking topic,” that would be quite different from “This is an inappropriate networking topic, and anyway that movie sucked balls and everyone I know agrees.”

      It just reads as unnecessarily harsh. It’s not direct, because the movie’s not relevant to the discussion – she said so herself.

    1. Jamie*

      She has a way to go before she’s in the league of my favorite fictional mentor of all time.

      When she gives the OP hygiene tips like these – then maybe…

      “Anyone who lets their hair grow below their ears to where I can’t see their ears means they don’t wash. If they don’t wash, they stink, and if they stink, I don’t want the son-of-a-bitch around me.”

      Talk about direct.

    2. CareerLady*

      I still read Tiger’s memos when I need a laugh. I’ve known people like him and worked for one. Tiger had nothing on him…only he was smart enough to not put it on paper.

    1. KayDay*

      When a bunch of people to comment on the unnecessary rudeness (b!tchiness?) of her communication style instead of the substance of her advice, which is sound (although not universally true), that a sign that it is probably not the most effective communication style.

  16. AF*

    I’m glad it worked out well, OP. She does seem like a know-it-all and you should just be wary of her “only ask me for career advice” suggestion, because she doesn’t know everything there is to know either. Glad that she offered to help but she shouldn’t be your only resource. Good luck!

  17. moe*

    I wonder if her response to the movie thing was a test of sorts–to weed out the people who are just too thin-skinned/defensive for her to want to work with. Her comments about young people being unwilling to take honest advice in the past — and comparing OP favorably to them — makes me think she’s wasted a lot of time trying to help people who weren’t receptive to critique when it came time to be more direct. Being overly blunt from the outset may be the point.

    It sounds like OP has lucked into a good contact, even if lacking in some social graces.

    1. fposte*

      It may have been a test, but that puts her firmly on the “haywire” hook rather than getting her off it, because testing people like that is a weird and controlling thing to do.

      1. moe*

        Why? What if she just wants to protect her own time? It’s not like she put OP through some crazy ritual or anything. It was just feedback in an email, not particularly mean in the grand scheme of things. And OP sought her out in the first place…

        1. fposte*

          Because testing people is inherently weird and controlling (ask any therapist about the soundness of an SO or date who does it), and it’s the very opposite of directness. If you want to protect your time, tell people that. (And frankly, I don’t even think the iffy part was a test–I think she’s inclined to be punitive, period, and consider it to be part of her directness.) There’s nothing she learned about the OP from the exchange that she couldn’t have learned from a direct statement.

          1. Laura L*

            ” it’s the very opposite of directness.”

            Yes! This is super important. Testing is NOT direct because the other person doesn’t know you’re doing it and doesn’t know what you want.

  18. nyxalinth*

    Eh. I tend to be sensitive to a snotty tone, but I also figure this person would only be around for the networking assistance, and if I can avoid bristling every time I hear the “Royal We” in her words, then why not? She has good advice and genuinely wants to help. But I agree: jerk.

    I had a boyfriend back in 1995 who felt anything less that brute, blunt honesty was lying. Long story short: it didn’t last long :P

      1. Chaucer*

        “I am a blunt person” unfortunately often translates into “I like being a jerk and talking down to people.” Someone who is truly blunt, and I mean the good type of blunt, doesn’t go around declaring that.

  19. Dan*

    The golden rule states: (S)he who has the gold, makes the rules. When you want something from someone, you do it on their terms. She’s got her preferences when it comes to networking, and she’s welcome to them. You either take them or leave them.

  20. Lily*

    If she can take what she dishes out, then I would prefer her directness to dealing with people who smilingly agree and then do what they want. At least she puts her cards on the table!

  21. melle*

    Sounds a bit… controlling.

    I had a manager who also liked to describe himself as “blunt and honest”, and it really was just his way of making it ok to act like a total jerk. It’s a common line with jerks, actually. “I speak my mind. If you can’t handle it, then that’s your problem!”

    The only thing I’d be worried about is how she claims to know exactly how every single person in the world wants to network. That obviously isn’t true for the OP, yet she already managed to convince the OP that it’s true…

  22. Canuck*

    I have to agree with AAM, the person comes across as snobbish and “know-it-all”. I’m sorry, but this person is in their early to mid-thirties, with maybe 10-years of work experience. While that is commendable, they are by no means coming to the table with an abundance of experience that would allow them to be that rude (not that it’s really ever excusable).

    I would take the advice with a grain of salt, and just keep in mind how that person wants to be interacted with. If it was me, I would continue my networking, and not rely very much on this lady. It may just be my opinion, but a big part of networking is the ability to form good, positive relationships with your contacts, and I just couldn’t see myself getting along with that person.

    1. CareerLady*

      Exactly. I’ve been a mentor a number of times and each time I was honest and respectful. There will be plenty of crazy co-workers, managers, etc. to show a person how not to be. I made up my mind after my own great mentor that I would show how a mentor should be.

      I never shield my mentees from the truth, but I didn’t need to break their spirits to get my point across either. BTW, I absolutely love to discuss movies, books, etc. It is a great way to see how alike and different my mentees are with one another and me.

  23. Victoria*

    While I agree that the contact could have handled the situation a little nicer, I don’t think she was wrong. You don’t chitchat about movies, music, or boyfriends with networking contacts that you contact. Leave that for your girlfriends. This is strictly business until the contact themselves feels comfortable enough to bring up topics that aren’t business related. Maybe the lady felt like you needed to learn a tough lesson. The working world isn’t all sunshine and unicorns- you need to stay professional at all times, otherwise you may find yourself out of another job.

    1. CareerLady*

      I disagree. I’ve been both a mentor and mentee (not to mention running a mentoring program). I love talking about movies (except certain genres), music, etc. It helps me to get a feel for the person’s total package. There are lots of things you can learn about a person’s professional fit that are not found out in the nice and neat 9-5 working hours.

      One example, I had a person who only listened to Christian music. This let me know that the person might not feel too comfy working in one of our offices where the manager was known to loudly curse (not at but around his staff). While sure that was an assumption on my part, it led to the discussion where she totally confirmed what I assumed.

      Now, the responsible thing to do would be to share that not everyone has my same ‘put it all on the table” philosophy regarding pop culture information. So I always encourage my mentees to proceed with caution and follow the mentor’s lead.

      1. Canuck*

        We’ve all read and been told about how a candidate’s fit with company culture is one of, if not the most, important features of hiring. Working style is certainly a part of how one fits with a given company – but so is over-all personality, which includes general interests, and how one is able to handle themselves socially.

        I would say that the person in the OP’s letter is a little too far to the “work” side of culture, and not enough on the “social” side.

  24. Erika*

    Reading these quotes and the comments from the OP, I can’t help but wonder if this “snooty” woman read or heard these networking tips somewhere else and has failed to put them into her own words. They read like she is literally quoting them from somewhere.

  25. KarenT*

    Honesty, bluntness, rudeness and tact are not mutually exclusive. You can be honest and blunt while maintaining tact, and you can be honest and rude. In my opinion (and clearly many on this site though not all) agree that this woman was honest but rude (and even unkind).

  26. pidgeonpenelope*

    I respectfully disagree with your opinions on this contact. As one who doesn’t get hints well, being direct and blunt is awesome! I would much rather her say, “and don’t ask me about personal matters” than say, “I just don’t have the time.” This does make the issue a matter of personal preference though, which I recognize. Yes, sometimes the bluntness stings but the end result after bouncing back can be sweet.

  27. Steve G*

    OP – you are a tough cookie for actually meeting her. You are discerning and know how to weed out the good info even from an imperfect source.

    My friend (in NYC) is dealing with a very suave looking lady colleague who, on the surface, seems like the type of person you’d respect and value their input, and gives the air of being very experiences. But the longer he is at this new job, the more he is realizing her expertise is superficial and he believe the only reason she stays in her position is that the business to a large degree runs itself – no crisis or big losses happen to drive her out or expose her lack of real expertise.

    Just stay smart and don’t get fooled by such people who enjoy more the superiority and “ambiance” of being a mentor, than passing on useful info. I’ve found that people who are good mentored are too busy to meet or think of themselves as mentors, and I always needed to just get as close as I could and learn by example or via real conversations about real problems.

  28. cheryl*

    I TOTALLY agree that she’s snooty. But that may just be her style. There are a lot of people that I can’t really relate to, or feel like I can’t like them because of their communication/personality style. (See http://occonline.occ.cccd.edu/online/klee/CommunicationsStyleInventory.pdf, for example.) When I teach workshops about communication, I talk about how we all have to try to flex our communication styles so we can communicate with others with different styles. However, there’s another thing I want to mention about mentors. Often times, in my experience, the best mentors are those who will also be or become friends, and social contacts. Getting together for a drink, a meal, carpooling to a conference, etc. Not necessarily becoming a best friend, but someone you can be friendly with. This mentor will never fulfill that role. (That’s OK! Some don’t. I’m just commenting that I think the ability to become friends, at some level, can enhance the mentoring relationship.)

  29. Courtney*

    Geeze! She sounds like the female Christian Grey of Networking. Did she make you sign a contract when all this was done too? What makes her so qualified to mentor you anyhow? Since she’s so blunt – did you ask her if she’s landed anyone a job yet out of the hoards of people she mentors? Were you even allowed to talk at this meeting or just take notes?

  30. Omne*

    Remember that the OP is asking this person for a favor and for her time, without any recompense. This is not a mentor/mentee relationship in a workplace, it’s a purely voluntary act on her part.

    Apparently she wants to keep this on a strictly professional basis and wants to set some ground rules. Personally I don’t think that the rules she set are all that bad, it sounds more as if she wants to make sure that if she spends the time to assist the OP that the OP is going to listen to her. It also sounds as if she is being more blunt than necessary. Perhaps she has had problems with assisting others in the past that reacted badly to direct feedback and she doesn’t want to deal with it again so she’s pushing it a little harder than needed.

    As far as contacting her regularly, she’s probably had people she’s helped that just dropped out of sight. That would be very frustrating to me if I was in her position. Most of the rules she laid out seem to be along those lines. She wants to make sure that if she spends her time on this that it won’t be wasted, in her viewpoint. Let’s face it, her viewpoint is the one that matters.

    Regardless of the tone I applaud the fact that she’s willing to do this in the first place and I would cut her a fair amount of slack in how she does it.

    1. Jamie*

      As far as contacting her regularly, she’s probably had people she’s helped that just dropped out of sight.

      That was something I found confusing.

      If it was because she didn’t want to be contacted more often than that I can understand it. Blunt, but I can understand her wanting to make it clear this wasn’t going to be a weekly email thing. But if it’s to make sure contact continues, that’s bizarre to me.

      She is giving her advice freely, people who give advice should understand the recipient isn’t under any obligation to take the advice nor to keep asking for advice.

      Certainly just as the mentor has a right to sever the relationship at any time, so does the OP. I don’t think this kind of cursory relationship requires a commitment beyond what is organic. Maybe that’s just me.

      1. Omne*

        One thought is that she derives satisfation from helping someone succeed and therefore wants to know what happens. There has to be something in it for her or she wouldn’t do it.

        She’s not exactly giving her advice freely and unsolicited, she’s make a commitment to the OP of her time and attention. She’s asking for a commitment back. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

  31. Annie M.*

    This woman actually sounds great to me; I’d love to network with her! You have to be respectful of people’s time and if a mentor sugarcoats all advice or doesn’t respond to missteps when they happen, it could lead to mixed messages which wastes your time and her’s. Proving receptiveness to constructive criticism right off the bat showed her that the OP is able to handle the professional world at least at a minimal level. Now she can feel comfortable giving her time and attaching her name to the OP should she meet a good contact.

    People are too quick to make assumptions about “tone” in e-mails. I actually agreed with the mentor about the personal question–it was really out of left field for an otherwise professional communication between two people who had never even met. It showed youth–professional communication is not like a social networking IM and online game rooms.

    Also keep in mind that e-mail messages in certain professions are open to public records requests or to internal review so many people in those situations are in a habit of avoiding any topics of a personal nature when using their work e-mail.

  32. Hazel Edmunds aka @careersinfo*

    Just to add two-penny-worth from the other side of the pond!
    The only time I contact you is to ask “how’s the foot” which an extremely personal question!!
    Professional be blowed, this lady was being, in my opinion, patronising.
    However, I accept that, despite our reputation for being reserved, most of the women’s networks I’ve experienced in the past have been focused on the person which can get personal at times.

Comments are closed.