Another networking rant, inspired this time by a question asked during a recent online event where I was being interviewed (oh, surprise! I was being interviewed on the topic of networking!). One of the attendees, J.* an executive at a large healthcare company shared this story:
J. had an email languishing brightly in an agitated but can’t ignore way in her inbox. The email was from a mentee who had contacted J. three or so months earlier asking for a reference in connection with a job she was applying for. J. had provided the reference. Through the grapevine, J. had learned that the mentee had landed the job, the mentee had not communicated this information to J. Now the mentee was back in J.’s inbox with another networking request. What was J. to do as she could see a pattern already starting forming with this person – a lot of networking asks and very few networking gives.
Should she just ignore her irritation at how the mentee treats networking contacts and respond to the mentee’s new request? Or pretend she missed the email and hope the mentee forgets she emailed J. asking for another introduction too? Is J. over-reacting, being dramatic or is this a well-founded networking annoyance?
Now, some of you may be thinking, what’s the big deal! J.’s an executive with years of experience and contacts, and her poor mentee is just starting out and needs the help! Give it!
Hmmmm, yes to that, and I feel J.’s pain, so here’s what I suggested:
- Respond with “I’d be happy to help with this, but I need to speak with you first” email.
- Let the mentee know how you feel, and provide guidance (as in all likelihood she is oblivious to what is happening).
- Guide her on smart network-building etiquette (i.e. if she continues using her network this way (asking for things and failing to recognize the critical role of mentors in making things happen) she is likely to alienate key contacts she will need in the future).
- Watch how the mentee reacts. Some tigers change their networking stripes, some do not.
For those who are empathizing with the mentee, or scratching their head wondering why on earth J. would be troubled by this new networking ask from the mentee, let me shed a little light on this:
- Showing a lack of respect for the networks of others is a danger sign. If you’re cavalier with me, how are you treating my connections? is what runs through my mind.
- J. like others, has worked hard to build strong relationships, and she needs to be able to tap into it for her needs, the requests of others not simply for a single mentee.
- Networks can get fatigued very quickly it we’re always asking for things and not giving in return.
- The networking give of a mentee is simple: give thanks, keep J. in the loop and acknowledge your networking debt (“thank you for your reference letter, I landed the job” “I could use your help again, would you mind if I asked you to….”).
- Know that mentors want to help, and that all you need to provide in return is a wee bit of courtesy. It’s not for the mentor to chase you to find out what happened as a result of a reference letter or referral or introduction. That’s YOUR responsibility, your networking give in the give, give, get exchange.
*I recently finished reading the deliciously wonderful memoir The Measure of My Powers by Jackie Kai Ellis. Her chosen protocol when referring to others in the story, who are alive and well, and worthy of their privacy, was to use their first initial rather than a fake “let’s call him Jake” name. I like this approach. It feels less awkward plus in sharing stories in a very public world, we’re all entitled to carve a bit of privacy out for ourselves, and others, so I’ve adopted that approach here. And read Jackie’s book, as damn, it’s a good one.
Need more? May I suggest: