how many times can I ask a networking contact for help?

A reader writes:

How many times is it appropriate to reach out to networking contacts for informational interviews, referrals, connections, etc.?

I have been searching on and off over the past two years. I don’t want to take advantage of my older networking contacts who have already helped me, and I would certainly return any favors if I could! But I’m trying to find an opportunity in a pretty small field and can use all the help I can get. Any ideas how to navigate this?

I answer this question 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.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Koalafied*

    I would have also offered LW a caveat about informational interviews being 1) more geared towards general career advice tailored to a specific career path, and not to expect them to lead to job opportunities, and 2) usually a one-off thing with any given person, or at most not repeated for several years/after one of the two has advanced to a new career level – if neither has progressed to a new level since the last informational interview, it’s unlikely the interviewer has enough new relevant insights that weren’t covered in the first meeting to warrant setting aside time for an entire second meeting. General career advice doesn’t change that much from year to year.

    I say this because it will run a lot of people the wrong way if they think you’re asking them to block off time for advice when your true aim is just to find a job through them. It feels a bit manipulative, to say nothing of the fact that loads of mid-career people who would be willing to give advice have no hiring sway or knowledge of any secret jobs that aren’t posted on a public job board. When they realize mid -interview that the other person is not interested in what they can offer and instead wants something they couldn’t offer even if they wanted to, it’s not a great feeling – it’s in the same vein as imposter syndrome. Suddenly worrying that people have been perceiving you as more powerful and important than you are, and then feeling embarrassed to suddenly be seen as less impressive and worrying it’s your fault for giving the wrong impression or worrying that you’re supposed to be more than you are. It definitely runs a risk of souring the relationship with some (not all – very personality dependent) people who will be too afraid of being embarrassed again or even having to be reminded about the previous embarrassment when they see you again.

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  2. Anya Last Nerve*

    I don’t think I want to be contacted more than once a year for help in finding someone a job. Also please be gracious and not demanding. I remember hearing about a colleague in another city at my former employer being laid off. I reached out and told him my new employer sometimes had jobs in his area so please let me know if he saw anything posted and I also offered to pass his resume to the head of the business that was located in his city. He wrote back and said he check the job board for his city and didn’t see anything and demanded I give him additional guidance! Dude. I’m happy to lend my support but I’m not trying to act as your unpaid recruiter.

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  3. Bookworm*

    I think Alison’s advice is pretty solid. It was discouraging when I got “sorry, don’t know anyone” 2-3 times in a row. I got the hint we only connected on LinkedIn so they could add to their connections. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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  4. Essess*

    How often did you actually follow through on the networking help? I have a cousin that came to me several times about wanting to get hired into my company. Twice I searched the internal job boards, reached out to my work contacts and found positions that would be perfect and for one I even had a contact that asked for his resume to be sent to them directly and they’d make sure he got an interview and each time he never got around to bothering to send me his resume to apply. When he reached out recently again for help, I just ignored him.

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  5. LP*

    I think the advice here to be sure to follow up with steps you took based on their guidance is really good. For example, if you went to Mary to ask that she advise you on if a role would be good for you, send her a quick note to thank her and let her know that based on her advice you applied for the position. Or if you were introduced to Jill’s friend, let her know that you really enjoyed meeting with them and it led to a great resume review, etc. Also, be specific about what you want and make sure it’s somethin they can help with. It’s probably not that useful to have several informational interviews a year, and it’s an ambiguous ask. But if you see on linkedin that your former colleague used to work with the hiring manger at a place you’re applying, that’s a great time to reach out!

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