If you’re lucky, your network includes a few contacts you can always count on. These are the people who are truly in your corner. They say they’ll forward your resume on—and then do. They help you prepare for an interview—and want you to keep them apprised of your progress. They congratulate you on your new job—and connect you with someone with years of experience in the field.
That’s why it can be so disheartening when you reach out to someone who has always been there, only to hear that he’s too busy to make an introduction, or she doesn’t think she’s the right person to answer your questions. And, sure, your biggest fan might just be overwhelmed with work. But if she doesn’t give you a time when she might be free again, she may just need a break from offering her assistance.
Don’t run the risk of turning off your connections. Read on for three networking faux pas you want to be certain to avoid.
1. Asking for Too Much
It seems obvious that repeatedly asking the same person for a favor will burn him or her out. However, it can be very confusing—especially for young professionals or those with limited contacts in a field—when someone offers to help. How do you know what’s a reasonable amount of outreach—and what’s far beyond the scope of what your contact would like to provide?
Part of the confusion comes from the fact that asking for too much is often discussed solely in the context of misjudging your relationship (e.g., asking someone you met once for an introduction to her senior vice president—totally not OK). But it’s also possible to overextend a close connection. For example, when someone offers to provide you with advice during the job search process, that’s great—but you likely don’t want to ask if he knows anyone, if he has any advice for someone new to the industry, and if he can proofread your resume.
Another way people with the best intentions become a nuisance is when they’re disorganized. Think: There’s a big difference between sending your contact one email with a list of five questions, and five emails, sent at five different times, as the questions come to you. So, try to be attentive to your contact’s schedule. Inquire when the best time for a call might be, and write out the questions you have in advance so that you don’t waste time riffing. If you’ve already been in touch but could use additional advice, ask your connection if he has the bandwidth to assist you further: If he opts in, he’s less likely to feel overextended.
2. Failing to Return the Favor
Another way well-intentioned people burn out their contacts is by thinking there is nothing they can offer in return. For example, you may look at the decades of experience your mentor has and think you couldn’t possibly be of any assistance.
Not so fast. First of all, there are often plenty of ways you can reciprocate in a parallel way. For example, we often think of recommendations for employees coming from their bosses, but if your manager writes you a lovely LinkedIn recommendation, it’s a great idea to write her one as well.
Next, don’t shortchange yourself by thinking your support isn’t valuable because it doesn’t look the same. Say your contact connects you to people in your new field—you can still make the effort to put in a good word whenever you meet his acquaintances. Even if your reciprocity is merely a gesture, making the point that the relationship isn’t one-sided can keep your contact from feeling like you’re taking advantage of him.
3. Lacking Gratitude
This may be the biggest mistake you could make. Someone who is in your corner will be there to advise and recommend you more times than you might expect, so long as each and every time you follow up with a thank you call or email.
Conversely, one of the easiest ways to turn a fan into someone who doesn’t have the time to help you is to be rude (and make no mistake, failing to say “thank you” is rude). I still remember giving a former intern an exceptional reference for her first full-time job, after which she never thanked me, nor told me she got the position. Understanding that she had less experience, I reached out to her to congratulate her on her new role, and again, she couldn’t be bothered to respond.
Forgetting to thank your contacts is discourteous. If it happens more than once, don’t be surprised if the next time you need a favor, you find that your contact is busy.
The professional contacts who offer to help you want to see you succeed. They are willing to share their time and expertise. If you’re respectful, and you put in the effort to make them feel appreciated, you’ll be able to go to them for advice for years to come.