with 3 networking duds in a row, am I doing something wrong?

A reader writes:

I’m in my late 20s and have a somewhat close friend, “Jessica,” around the same age and in the same industry. She has since moved to another city, so we don’t see each other or talk often, but we’ve kept our professional relationship very strong through social media and LinkedIn, and have used each other as sounding boards as we move through different positions and professional challenges.

A few months ago I reached out to Jessica with a very specific request: seeing myself hit a ceiling at my current job and looking to take “the next step,” I asked if she would be willing to connect me with some key contacts of hers who work in a very different avenue of our industry, and also on the other side of the country from us (so phone calls and emails, no in person). I was looking for informational interviews, curious if I want to pursue this direction and, if so, get some feedback as to how best to do so.

She agreed with great enthusiasm and set to work, reaching out to two great-on-paper contacts, and then connecting us via email. Each got back to me/us without hesitation and agreed to chat with me. It all went downhill from there.

The first contact, who was less enthusiastic but able to talk immediately with me, was a dud. She spoke to me as if I were a 19 year old college student with no experience, didn’t change her tone or content despite me shifting the conversation, and her advice was completely useless (except for in the sense that it made me realize that, if this attitude is common, maybe I don’t want to head in this direction).

The second contact was incredibly friendly and enthusiastic via email, but told me it wasn’t a good time and to reach out in a couple of weeks. After reinitiating the conversation, I heard nothing for over a week and then got a message saying “gone for two weeks, let’s talk in September.”

At the same time, Jessica had asked me if I would be willing to chat with a loose connection of hers that was moving into my area and industry. I agreed and set about contacting her. This woman, same age as us, was in town for a week, and we set up two different tentative meetings, both of which she flaked. I reached out to her and went above and beyond my duties, blocked off time for her, changed my schedule to be where we had agreed, and even reached out again when she didn’t materialize the first time, agreeing to a second try. Nada, not even a call or email to say she couldn’t make it, and never heard from her again.

So, my questions.

1) How should I report all of this back to Jessica? I very much appreciate her willingness to reach into her network for me, and she delivered on what I asked of her, so I don’t want to come across as ungrateful for her help. How to discuss it without coming across the wrong way?

2) Should I tell Jessica about the woman she sent my way and how she flaked? If so, how?

3) Would it be wise to try to reinitiate conversation (for a third time) with the second connection again in September, or would that be pushy at this point? She has only indicated enthusiasm mixed with a hectic schedule, but I see how it could also be a polite brushoff.

4) In general, did I make any obvious (or not so obvious) missteps in this networking pursuit that I should avoid in the future? Is there something I should do differently? Or was this just a bad experience to cut my losses and move on from?

Yeah, networking — from both sides — can be something of a crapshoot. Some contacts sound like they’re going to be great and then flake out or just aren’t helpful. Some people seem eager to get your help and then don’t follow through, even though you’re willing. What you’ve experienced here isn’t terribly unusual; it’s just a little awkward that they all lead back to your friend.

It doesn’t have to be that awkward though. In answer to your first question, about what to tell her, there’s no need to present her with a full report. You can just let her know that you talked to Contact 1 and that Contact 2 has been busy and you’re still trying to coordinate a time to talk. You can also say that you reached out to Contact 3 twice but she didn’t show up (or call) for either scheduled meeting. (You really should include this last part because your friend should know in case she’s thinking of connecting this person with other contacts in the future — but you can just say it in a matter-of-fact tone. You’re not blaming your friend, obviously, just letting her know.)

Now, if she asks questions about Contact 1 and what she told you, then you can certainly explain a little more what happened there. But wait for her to ask — and if she doesn’t, no need to make her feel like she steered you somewhere unhelpful. (Especially because it’s hard to relay that proactively without sounding a bit like you’re complaining that her favor didn’t work out for you, whereas if she asks first, it won’t come across that way.)

I do think that you should try reaching out to Contact 2 again in September, because she specifically told you to. When you do, you can certainly offer her an easy out — “I know you’re busy, so if it’s inconvenient, I won’t be offended” — but you shouldn’t drop the contact entirely (or you’ll be one of those people reaching out for help who then doesn’t follow up).

And as for your last question, did you make any obvious missteps? Not that I see here. This stuff is pretty par for the course with this type of networking, unfortunately. Not everyone is helpful, even people who genuinely would like to be, and people’s schedules get in the way, and some people are just flakes. So this all sounds pretty normal, but also not like a reason to stop trying — because some contacts will pay off. You just can’t always tell at the outset which they’ll be.

{ 23 comments… read them below }

  1. Yup

    Your experiences sound like my networking experiences. I don’t get it either. So frustrating.

    Like AAM said, I’d let Jessica know about contact #3 who flaked. I recently went way out of my way to connect someone from my university to one of my professional contacts, and the university person completely flaked. I did appreciate it that my contact let me know, so I don’t waste my time (or that of other people) trying to help the flake again.

    You could wrap the other two items in the same email. “Hey, thanks again for your help. I did chat with Jane, and Sue asked me to email her when she’s back in town next month. By the way, I wasn’t successful in connecting with Chris. She didn’t turn up for our rescheduled appointment and I didn’t hear back from her, so I’m not sure what happened there. But thanks again for all the help on your side, I appreciate it!”

    1. Jessa

      Absolutely, if I set someone up with a connection, I’m using my reputation to get them in with someone. I absolutely want to know if they flake off or don’t follow up or act screwy. I certainly don’t want to refer them to anyone else.

  2. tesyaa

    On the other end, I get calls from people claiming they want to “network” (having been referred with my consent by a mutual friend), who seem disappointed that I can’t offer them a job on the spot. At least you didn’t do that.

  3. Good_Intentions

    Alison:

    I really enjoyed reading your response to this question, but I did want to briefly point out a typo.

    In the first sentence of your fourth paragraph: “I do think that you should try reaching out to Contact 2 again in September, because she specifically told you too,” you use the wrong version of “too.”

  4. smallbutmighty

    Ah, networking.

    I work for a big, cool company that’s considered a highly desirable employer, and I get hit up at least once a week by everyone from my former running partner’s boyfriend to my stepdaughter’s friends’ parents. I honestly want to help people out, but it can all be a little exhausting, and I’ve had to develop some filters. They are as follows:

    –you have to be interested in an actual position that’s currently open.
    –you have to send me a resume I can look at to determine whether your interest in that position is realistic.
    –you have to be able and willing to meet for lunch or coffee with me at my workplace.

    I know these can be challenges for a job-hunter, but my free time is limited and my professional reputation is on the line when I recommend you. I want to do all I can to ascertain that you have solid credentials, good professional judgment, and are a good cultural fit for our company. I realize others’ opinions on these things may differ from mine, and if you feel that you’ve not gotten a fair shake from me, you should absolutely go ahead and apply and/or approach someone different for networking help.

    By the way, at last count I’ve managed to get five people hired in my department, and two of them now outrank me! They were all motivated, organized, proactive, and knew what they wanted, and it was a pleasure to network with them.

    1. Eric

      I do something similar. In my case most people are looking to come in for a similar position. So I’ve taken the time to write up a pretty detailed description of what it is that we do (both at my company, and industry wide) and how this entry-level role fits in to the big picture. This way, for people I can’t/won’t meet with, I do have something I can copy and paste into an e-mail that is (hopefully) pretty useful, and is more detailed that what you would find on a website.

    2. Kate

      This makes a lot of sense. What do you do when you get a resume and someone’s interest isn’t realistic?

      1. smallbutmighty

        Because I was born brutally honest, I’m brutally honest. I usually try to leaven it with a little humor: “Wow, you’re interested in the Grand Overlord of Chocolate Teapots position? That’s a really important job here. I’ve been here for seven years and have been an Assistant Overlord for five, and I wouldn’t submit an application for a role like that. I really think it would be a reach for you based on your qualifications, and I can’t in good conscience write a recommendation for a job I honestly don’t think you’re ready for based on my knowledge of that type of role. If you find an Apprentice Overlord-type position on our job board, though, give me a yell. I could see you being highly competitive for a job like that.”

    3. Interested in an actual position??

      Great, now I’m confused. A tip I’ve received on networking is to NOT have a specific position in mind, and simply to learn more about the field, etc. When I contact someone (usually an introduction from a friend), how would I know if they’re the type like this poster, or someone who doesn’t want to feel “used” just for the open position??

  5. ChristineSW

    Yup, these all sound much like my networking experiences over the past few years! It’s been mainly not replying to my email, despite permission to contact them. I tend to let it drop after the one attempt because I feel like the ball is in the other person’s court, and I don’t want to seem like a nag. I’ve actually tended to think all of these duds were due to something lacking on my end, so it’s good to know that this is not unusual.

    OP’s Contact 2 (willing to help, but crazy-busy) sounds a lot like a woman at my university I tried to reach out to in the spring to get some insight into her line of work and how I might get my foot in the door. She postponed our meeting twice, and haven’t heard from her since. I have a feeling I’ll see her again in my volunteer capacity, so I’d like to re-initiate the connection (it’s been a bit over 2 months), but I’m not sure how since she has not specifically invited me to reach out again, and I do not know how soon it will be until I do see her, if at all.

    1. smallbutmighty

      I think my experience here is pretty common, so I’ll share it in case it’s useful to you. I get a lot of email–we’re talking hundreds of emails a day–and a number of them are strictly informational, while a smaller number are clearly action items. Then there’s a category of email that’s neither clearly strictly informational nor clearly an action item. I hate this category. I sit and stare at these and say to myself, “What does this person want me to DO?” Because these emails are from my colleagues, I have to figure out what to do with them.

      When I get emails like this–neither clearly just informational nor clearly an action item request–from someone who is not a colleague, I tend to close it, thinking I’ll figure out what to do with it later, and then I never do. Right or wrong, I don’t feel the same sense of responsibility to close the loop with an acquaintance for whom I’m doing a favor than for a colleague with whom I have to work.

      So my suggestion would be to send her a succinct, friendly email containing a very clear ask. It might say something like this: “Hi [Crazy Busy Lady]! I’m sorry we never caught up in the spring. If you have some time, I’d love to buy you coffee at [coffee shop right next to your office building] and get a half-hour or so of your time to learn more about your work in chocolate teapot semiotics. It’s a subject that’s interested me for a long time, and I’d really value your insights. Wednesdays and Fridays work best for me, but I know you’re busy and I can work around your schedule if another day works better for you. I look forward to hearing from you! My number is 123-456-7891 if phone or text is a better method of connecting.”

  6. Ali

    Oh I have had this happen to me a couple times too. I’ve contacted a couple of people asking for help with various things who just never reply, even after follow-ups. I asked someone more experienced than me what I was doing wrong to not get a reply after the first contact, and he showed me how to re-write the follow-up. I did what he told me and still nothing, so I ended up letting it go. One contact sounded promising, but then it ended up a one-way relationship with him never responding when I updated him on my progress or asked him for his assistance.

    The worst, though, was me unintentionally offending someone I once respected, and the person lashed out on me! Apparently, he had been stewing for a while, and when I got back in touch, he was crazy offended by some of my behavior and let it fly exactly how he felt. I tried to apologize to him, saying that I had seen the error of my ways and that he was trying to help me, but to no avail. I just couldn’t bring it to myself to use this person as a mentor/contact anymore if he couldn’t even write back and say “apology accepted.” I took it personally, but that was a good reminder of sometimes, people are useful and other times, you get duds.

  7. Anonymous

    I have always thought a ten percent hit rate for networking was pretty good, so I would not think anything of three strikeouts.

  8. Not So NewReader

    A friend of mine, who has an incredible number of friends, used his group to help find an new job. They all came up empty! ALL of them- we are talking hundreds of people.
    I have had only minor successes by talking through networks. Nothing major going on.

    I think that your experience is fairly normal, OP. You got a good strong start by asking your friend who has good follow-through.
    Definitely ask her to keep you posted if she thinks of some more people. Seems like she will come back to you.

    Oddly, my best luck seems to be with people that I know casually. My neighbor’s friend that visits once every couple months. A woman I met at an organization that I just joined. I have no idea why these casual relationships work out this way. Then I read an article some where- that said basically the same thing. Your nearest and dearest are probably not going to successfully connect you. (Can’t remember where I read that.)

    Hey, maybe that lady that you talk to in September will have some ideas of people to talk with.

  9. Anony1234

    Same industry, two different sets of two people…

    I had two people at two different companies tell me they were going to talk to their manager about talking with me and seeing if I can get a job. The first person to offer to do something said she’d call her former boss and give them my name. I never heard if she did, and she didn’t return my emails. I even tried to directly contact her former boss, and her boss was not even the slightest bit interested in getting to know me. I waited a year to see if there was going to be a manager’s change, and there was (it’s the type of industry that does). I got the job with the new manager and without my contact.

    At the other place, my contact was putting my name through to his manager. Again, never heard from the manager, and again, I contacted the manager. That manager never got back to me. I told my contact face-to-face, and he was “surprised” to hear that. He claimed he would go back and tell his manager again, and… nothing.

    I do not know if my contacts ever really said anything to the person they said they would, but their managers’ inaction make me believe otherwise.

  10. TamiToo

    This is the thing, when you are reaching out to network with someone, you are asking for something of them with potentially nothing in return for that person. While we want to believe that everyone is benevolent and helps everyone they can, that isn’t always true for various reasons to which you may not be privy. Basically, you are asking a favor of that person and asking them to “spend” something very important to everyone…their time and energy…with you. Not everyone is willing or able to do that. That person’s time is probably at a premium, I’m guessing, or they wouldn’t be a desirable networking contact. Think about how exhausting it must be for people to be constantly hitting you up to “network.” You are asking a favor, and the answer very well may be “no.” It’s a risk you take when you ask a favor.

  11. MrSparkles

    Please don’t come down too hard on yourself. As mentioned, networking, despite what many say, IS indeed a crapshoot. From personal experience, the only time networking as been helpful (someone helping me or I helping them) has been the following:

    They (or I) had the ability to forward my (or their) resume to the appropriate people, thus bypassing the typical application process

    Note that it only generated an interview (in which they/I had to prove ourselves), but getting noticed is half the battle. Outside of that, in my experience, networking hasn’t been all that beneficial as, for the most part, my network is only aware of what’s happening at their respective jobs.
    Most people do want to help and are often genuine about it, but ‘wanting to’ and ‘being able to’ are often two different things.
    That’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.

  12. Chris Hogg

    The book, The 2-Hour Job Search, by Dalton, talks about three types of persons we will run into when networking: the curmudgeon, the obligate, and the booster.

    When we contact a curmudgeon, they will not respond, will not help, will not feel the least bit compelled to do anything for us.

    When we contact an obligate, they feel obligated to help us but don’t want to, so they tend to string us along, all the while hoping we will just go away; but they don’t want to end the dance (and thus feel guilty) so we spend a lot of unfruitful time chasing after them.

    The booster wants to help us, and will help us.

    Dalton doesn’t try to figure out what percentages the three types represent, but he does discuss how to identify and react to / with them.

    A very helpful resource for those who are networking, and especially for those who want to use LinkedIn to do so.

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