my contact wants to charge me for a networking meeting

A reader writes:

Is it normal for someone to charge a client for a networking meeting? I’m currently in the process of looking for a new job and setting up informational interviews with professionals in my area. I emailed back and forth with one woman trying to set a time to meet, but kept getting responses from her that we needed to reschedule.

As a compromise, we agreed that I should email her my questions. I sent some typical questions I would ask anyone I meet for an info interview (volunteer opportunities, organizations to recommend, other people I should connect with). In response, I received an email from her saying that once again we would have to reschedule. In addition, she stated that because of her limited time, the only way for her to fit these kind of conversations is to charge for them.

Am I overreacting in thinking she should have been more upfront about this? I understand that time and information is valuable, but this is the first time I’ve encountered this request in (what I thought) was a more informal setting.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My job isn’t what I was promised it would be
  • My reference incorrectly said I’d left a job that I’m still at
  • My coworker assumes I’ll always give her a ride home
  • My medical condition flared up just before an interview

{ 32 comments… read them below }

  1. Dani X*

    I can’t help but think of the letter earlier this week about the manager who also got rides with coworkers but was sure noone resented it

  2. kittymommy*

    I would think if she is going to charge you for it, she needs to stop rescheduling; but I also think that like Alison said, she doesn’t really charge for it (and may be trying to get you to cancel it).

  3. Jeanne*

    1) It’s not normal to charge but you don’t have to pay. Say thank you and part ways.
    4) You can tell her you can’t give rides. If you do still offer a ride, she can just go along while you get milk and pick up the kids. She doesn’t get special chauffeur service. It’s your ride home and she can deal with it.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      Totally agree.

      Also: she can walk those two blocks to her own house. Stop giving her door-to-door service! And ask her to pitch in for gas, and make it at least half the amount it actually costs you. Just because she’s not riding a bus doesn’t mean she gets a free ride.

      1. PolarBearGirl*

        Just coming here to say this. Your co-worker can now go with you every day to day care pick up. If she toughs it out on that, she can walk home the 2 blocks. Take a week or two saying things like, “I’m rushing today, so I need to go right to day-care” or “My darling Frick and Frack are so tired. I’m going to take them right in the house. See you at work tomorrow!”

        If she was helpful enough to get you a foot in the door on the job, act like you know she’ll want to help you get the kids on time or get some milk or ensure the kids can get right home.

        1. eplawyer*

          I was going to suggest do the daycare stop on the way home. A ride with two kids (especially if you are childless yourself) will having the co-worker deciding she liked getting off at 4 p.m. much better.

          Also is she coming in late? Or same time and working an extra hour? Is she getting OT?

          1. Annonymouse*

            Continue doing what you did before – blasting music, going to the shops, picking up the kids.

            It’s one thing to ask for a ride or have an agreed upon standing arrangement- where money for fuel or turn taking is done.

            But to just assume it’s cool to ride with you without asking means she forfeits the right for you to ask “hey do you mind if I crank the music/stop by the store/play an audiobook or podcast/sit in complete silence?”

            Or one time just leave if she isn’t ready when you are.

            If she gets mad you can say “I’m sorry but you didn’t ask and we never discussed this being a regular thing or arrangement. I need to do errands and pick up my children each day so I’m not able to be relied upon for regular transport. I need the flexibility to change each day.”

        2. Naruto*

          Yeah — you can certainly tell her you can’t give her a ride. But if you want an alternative, this works just fine. You have to stop for milk. You have to get the kids first. She gets out at your house. Whatever — but definitely, in addition, she pays for half of at least half of the gas.

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Seriously, about LW2. She just starting staying at work an extra hour to catch a ride? Without discussing it with you? And Suzanne still leaves at 4, but doesn’t drive her anymore. I’m thinking Suzanne had a little conversation along the lines with, “oh great! since you got her the job now you can ride with her.” Because she hadn’t been able to use her words to extricate herself from indentured chauffeuritude.

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        Just want to say how much I love the phrase “indentured chauffeuritude”!

        Also, I agree with these comments.

      2. Foreign Octopus*

        I do wonder about people who just take it as a given that something will be done for them. I can’t imagine being in a situation like that where I wouldn’t be aware it was an inconvenience for the other person. Or maybe I am and I don’t realise it. I hope not. I’m second-guessing myself now. Damn.

  4. la bella vita*

    LW #5 – nothing to add to Alison’s advice, just wanted to say that I have the same thing (though it rarely flares up these days, thankfully) and it is not fun. The first time it happened, I was at work and thought I was having a heart attack or stroke or something (I think I was 32 at the time). I went to my doctor and he ran an EKG just to be safe, then told me I was fine and explained what was happening. He even told me he has it as well and that the first time it happened to him he rationally knew what was happening, because, you know, he’s a doctor, but his brain went into “YOU’RE DYING!!!!!!” mode.

    1. Sarasaurus*

      I have POTS, which I know is similar, and I definitely don’t think I could interview during a flare-up. I do know what you mean about thinking you’re dying. I think it looks scary from the outside, too. Several times, I’ve had people scramble to call 911, thinking something is seriously wrong, while I try to convince them that no, really, I’m fine, I just need to sit down, etc.

    2. many bells down*

      I’ve got it too, but like a lot of people I have a very specific trigger for it. So fortunately I haven’t had a flare-up that I couldn’t predict in advance. It’s such a pain though because I’ll be groggy for hours afterward if I do end up fainting.

  5. finderskeepers*

    How much is being charged? A nomial amount (<$100)? $200? $1000? If it's less than $100, I'd just equate it to buying them an expensive lunch.

    1. CanCan*

      I would just reply that I’m not in a position to pay, but I would be happy to buy her lunch.

      $100 for a networking meeting is nowhere near nominal. Depends on the state of your finances, of course.

  6. designbot*

    LW2: I’ve been through this before, and the fact turned out to be that they based their job description and the interview on their hopes and dreams for the position, but they had no business or marketing plan to actually make those plans come to fruition. If you find you’re stuck in that sort of situation, you have the choice to develop a plan to grow the position into what you want it to be yourself (provided you have the experience and/or skillset to be able to develop such a plan an execute on it), or find another job. The latter is definitely an easier road. You may even be able to call up contacts and be like “This has never happened to me before, but the job I accepted turned out completely different than expected. I’m really kicking myself for making the wrong choice here, and wondered if your company still had any openings?

    1. A person*

      This is similar to my experience as well. Currently I’m trying to see if I can salvage the position to make it what was originally envisioned by my boss (a new supervisor with no plan and apparently no authority to make the position into what I was told it would be).

      Past precedence is definitely a barrier, though. My predecessor came from an admin assistant background and took on tasks that upper management prefers stay with the role even with a different person in it, so take that into consideration as well with your situation.

      But the first step is definitely talking to the boss and seeing what is actually within your power to change about the role. If you get “that’s just the way it is”, I like the previous poster’s suggestion about reaching out to contacts.

  7. Granny K*

    If your coworker lives two blocks from your house, why can’t you pick up your kids (with her still in the car) go home and she can walk home?

    1. Aisling*

      Because the point wasn’t that can’t pick up her kids in time. The point was she didn’t have the time to run other quick errands before picking them up. And, she just doesn’t want to drop her off anymore. Either of these reasons is valid.

  8. Stickler*

    It’s possible that the networking contact only decided to charge after she received an emailed list of detailed questions that she had to write an answer for. It would be very different for me chatting with someone over coffee and talking about my field than if someone emailed me a list of questions that required thoughtful and well-composed responses. That is no longer a “networking meeting;” it is writing answers or a job guide for someone. Just wondering if this could be happening here.

    1. JessB*

      I think the networking contact is the one who asked for the questions to be emailed? So, they could still have had a more informal networking meeting face-to-face, but she’d have to quit rescheduling.

  9. Mimmy*

    #2 – I think this has happened to me a couple of times, including with my current job. When job searching, is there any way to avoid this type of situation?

    Also, is this common? It seems somewhat common to me, particularly with newly-created positions (as my current job is).

  10. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    #1 – Not exactly the same, but some years ago, I looked into joining BNI (Business Network International). I’d heard good things about them from several people and went to the meeting of a local chapter. You had to pay a fee of €15 every week at the meetings because they hired a room and provided breakfast. I found that fair and reasonable. t BUT THEN it turned out the membership fees were around €1,100! And that had to be paid up front, and there was no option for installments. Adding the membership fee with the weekly fee meant it would cost just under €2,000 a year to be a member.

    I was so disappointed because their structure really worked for me and I liked the people a lot. I would have been happy to pay a fee because that’s only fair when someone is helping you out. But that was too big an investment for me to make, and to find out in the middle of the meeting was doubly upsetting. (I’ve since heard less positive things about BNI, so maybe I dodged a bullet.)

    Anyway, it would be nice if people were clear up front about wanting payment before sharing information. It’s only right to repay someone’s time and effort by paying them or trading work, just tell people first so they know.

  11. livingtheneweconomy*

    I cannot believe that somebody wants to charge for a networking meeting. The best way I can think of to thank all the people who helped me professionally is to pay it forward and help somebody else. . If you don’t have time, just say so, but for goodness sakes—-charging?……….

  12. Pooja Krishna*

    While people are within their rights to ask for money, in return for a service, I would say it’s better to say this upfront, and politely. I recently had speakers at an event I’m organizing asking if there would be any compensation. We clarified that the event was free and they would get a lot of publicity, but no payout. Most said yes and the one politely declined since she would have to pay transit costs etc. But either way, we have the door open for mutually beneficial future business relationships.

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