am I being stingy with my contacts?

A reader writes:

Four years ago, I worked at a company that hired a junior person to assist an adjacent department. She was never my assistant and I did not work closely with her; in fact, she only touched one project for my group. We were not close, but we were friendly and I think she looked up to me a bit, as one of the few women in the office in a managerial role. I left the company and eventually she did as well (she might have been let go). We are linked on social media/LinkedIn but otherwise haven’t kept in touch.

This past year, she has asked me five times to introduce her to different people in my circle, and I just got another request. I did/do want to help, but it is becoming a bit much! And I really don’t have much to say about her work performance. As far as I could tell and have heard from former colleagues, she was not a great or a terrible employee.

I have turned down some of her previous introduction requests, saying I did not know the person well enough to introduce her to them. With one of them, I did intervene and sent a nice email about her, introduced the two of them, and recommended her for a position (which I should not have done in retrospect, since I probably do not have enough information on her as an employee).

I am torn because I would like to be nice and to be someone who helps out other women in my field, but at the same time I feel like this is an inappropriate number of requests from someone I am not that close to and that I have already tried helping her. But I feel like I have already set expectations that I would put her in touch with people based on my previous responses.

Am I being stingy with my contacts? Should I keep introducing her to people? And if not, what would be a kind way of telling her that I am not going to continue to help?

First, no, you’re not being stingy with your contacts. You didn’t work closely with her, she might have been fired from the job you know her from, you can’t vouch for her work. You’ve tried to help in the past, but five requests in a year is a lot for someone you don’t know well. Hell, it’s a lot for someone you do know well.

Your relationships with people in your network have value. Part of that value is your credibility and your judgment. If you ask someone to talk to your former coworkers and they’re not impressed, they’re probably going to be a little less interested in the next person you ask them to talk to. That’s why it’s not really reasonable for someone who doesn’t know you well to make numerous requests of you like this, unless you’ve specifically told them that it’s okay to.

Of course you want to be a nice person and help out other people in your field — but there are ways to do that that don’t mean using up your own capital on someone whose work you can’t vouch for. If you want to help people, offer to answer questions about your field, give advice, share your own experiences … but you’re not obligated to turn over your contacts on demand, and that’s especially true when someone is making multiple requests like this.

It’s also reasonable for you to make choices about where you spend your helping-others energy. You can be generous with your help in general but still decide that you aren’t getting a great feeling about how this person is managing her relationship with you and that you thus would prefer to invest your (presumably limited) energies elsewhere.

So, how to respond to her? I’d just be honest: “I don’t think I can continue making connections — I’ve got a limited amount of requests I can make to my network and have already arranged a couple of introductions. But I’m going to be at the Big Industry Conference in April and would love to catch up with you if you’ll be there.” That last sentence can be anything that’s reasonably kind, even if it’s just “I hope things are going well for you and that our paths cross soon” or whatever.

{ 23 comments… read them below }

  1. Dan*

    I grew up hearing “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” That’s the mantra. What they never actually said is that merely “knowing” someone isn’t enough, you have to know them well enough and in a capacity for them to speak highly of your technical skills. (Unless you know the CEO or Senior VP and you’re trying to get an internship. There, “knowing” someone is often enough.)

    But in the real world, “I know Dan, of course he’ll recommend me for a job!” Uh, no. I’ll also not recommend you for a job if you didn’t make a favorable impression on me.

    1. mellie*

      I actually heard an alternative to that in grad school that made a lot of sense to me – it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.

      1. Annonymouse*

        And how and what they know of you.

        So I might know someone that could help me in my career but if they know me as a obnoxious slacker that stuck their friend/relative with all the work and took the credit ….. Well it would be better if they knew nothing about me than that.

    2. Beezus*

      And you have to actually have skills to speak of. I have a score of distant relatives, in-laws, and friends-of-friends who occasionally get the idea that I can solve their self-inflicted professional woes by using some clout they imagine I’ve gained in my moderately successful career to open doors to jobs they’re wholly unqualified for. Yeah, no, that’s not how it works. I don’t have any golden tickets or glass slippers – everyone here worked hard to get here, and you’ll have to, too.

      1. Rat Racer*

        I think of it more like: if you’re asking me to recommend you for a job, you are asking me to stake my reputation on your candidacy. And if I don’t know you (or if I do know you and don’t think highly of your work) I’m not willing to tie my name and credibility to you.

  2. AnotherAnon*

    I’ve seen a lot of bizarre (read: haphazard/barely thought-out) uses of LinkedIn. A faculty member I worked very briefly with told me he pays $500/month for someone overseas to manage his profile for him (he’s a premium user) – mainly to post congratulatory and birthday messages to his many thousand connections. I also saw him randomly requesting recommendations/endorsements from about 20 different people over the course of 5 minutes for some random position he was considering applying for, then two minutes later going to his inbox and finding he had 1000+ unread messages dating back several years from people who he didn’t remember contacting (likely because his overseas worker had messaged them posing as him), including some requests for recommendation from others that he of course deleted. So maybe the LW’s friend doesn’t really put much thought into asking for introductions (but is hopefully not as flippant about things as this faculty member).

  3. Wondering...*

    I recently met with someone who had reached out on the suggestion of a mutual business contact (I just reread the note and the way it was phrased makes me wonder if the mutual contact knew she was reaching out). She is new to our field and trying to figure out how her skills could transfer to different roles. A few times she asked who ran the teapots program at a certain organization that I mentioned as interesting. I answered, if I knew, but didn’t offer to make introductions. (In some cases because I didn’t know the person. In others because I felt it was a tenuous connection at best). I didn’t think it was odd at the time (I myself have found it useful to learn who the key players are and have often googled people to see what their career path was or what kind of education they have in order to think about my own career). But now I’m a little paranoid she’ll drop my name when reaching out to people. Am overthinking this? She was very nice, professional, came prepared with good questions, so I don’t think she’ll say “give me a job” or something really egregious, but I’m wondering if I should have handled it differently…

    1. Anna No Mouse*

      If she does drop your name and it gets back to you, it will reflect more poorly on her part by insinuating a connection that doesn’t exist than it does on your end by simply offering factual information about who holds a particular post.

    2. Terra*

      Name dropping isn’t that serious or even necessarily bad form depending on how it’s done. “Wondering said I’d be perfect for the roll” would be rude and likely reflect badly on them. “Wondering mentioned I might be interested in the job” is so-so depending on if you said that or not and the conversation. “Wondering mentioned that your organization had an interesting teapot program” is fairly normal as both an ice breaker and as being complimentary to the place you might be applying by letting them know that someone you’ve spoken to speaks highly of them. Provided whatever she says is 1) true, 2) positive, and 3) not obviously self-promotion it’s not unreasonable and no one should look down on you or her for it.

  4. TootsNYC*

    ” I’ve got a limited amount of requests I can make to my network”

    This is very true–if I were someone in your network, I would definitely reach out to someone you introduced me to, proactively. So I’m actually counting on you to not waste my time.

    1. AnotherHRPro*

      This! On behalf of your contacts, PLEASE be judicious with making referrals. It is fine to offer a contact if you think it is a good fit, but otherwise you shouldn’t waste everyone’s time. If someone sends me a bad contact I may not consider the next person you refer to me.

  5. Curious Jen*

    Apologies for asking this on a completely unrelated thread, but I’ve always found AAM readers to be exceptionally nice/helpful, and thought I’d give it a shot.

    I’m graduating from grad school in May, and am looking for a new job. I’ve come across a handful that say that their salary and benefits standards are “competitive and depend on qualifications and experience.”

    My question is when to ask what their range is for a position. Do I ask before I spend time tailoring my resume & cover letter? Do I ask after they respond, but before the interview? After the interview? The positions I’m looking for can have a wide range depending on the industry (private/nonprofit/gov), and I don’t want to waste my time and theirs.

    Thanks in advance for the help!

    1. Hey Arnold*

      They’ll ask you to post this in Friday’s open thread if they haven’t already :)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        “They” — the big corporate overloads running the site?


        But yes, Jen, I try to keep threads on-topic here since otherwise they get unwieldy (although interestingly, this post hasn’t garnered many comments at all!), but you’re welcome to email this to me directly or post it in Friday’s open thread. Thanks!

        1. Curious Jen*

          Ha! Thanks, Arnold and Alison, for the quick replies.

          I tried combing the archives, but wasn’t able to find a similar question (though it’s possible I missed it as Chrome and AAM sometimes don’t agree with each other). I’ll email my question now.


      2. Hey Arnold*

        In the meantime before this gets deleted (you’ll get a lot of great advice on Friday) I will say this…as a recent grad be realistic with your experience and expectations. Whenever I see a range I assume they are going to pay the low end and I am pleasantly surprised when they offer the mid range.
        In gov they offered the range at the interview IME.

  6. J*

    Argh. LinkedIn is the one social network that I feel I fail to grasp properly. I go through phases where I only accept connection requests from people I know well enough to vouch for them to anyone else, and others where I’m just trying to grow my contact list. I feel like there’s no happy medium. Is the utility of the social network improved more by strong ties or weak ties?

    However, I also feel that if I’ve accepted your connection request, I should be willing to make that link, if I possibly can, without regard to how many times you’ve asked me to do it in the past. Otherwise, why exactly are we connected? Fortunately, this is a fairly academic question: I don’t get introduction requests terribly often from anyone in my network.

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