Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Job Search / Networking

A Quick and Easy Way to Burn a Bridge When You Have an "in" at a Company

That’s the first thing most people will say you find a position you love at a company where you actually know people.

After all, the average job gets a lot of applicants, and if you have an in, there’s no reason not to use it. But what happens when you ask for one and end up deciding that you don’t want the position after all.

Should you just go MIA? Act like it never happened? It’s not like you’re doing your connection any harm by passing on the gig, right? No, passing’s not a problem—but not following up is.

Here’s why:

1. There Are Now Other People Involved Who Want Updates

OK, sure. You won’t get anyone fired if you suddenly start ignoring follow-up messages from the HR department about setting up an interview. Unless your connection’s a full-time recruiter there, the odds are that he or she has only offered to fill out a form or two and tell the company, “Hey, this applicant is not a crazy person and I hope you interview him.”

However, even if that person’s job isn’t in recruiting, there’s likely a hiring manager who will want to know what the deal is. As awkward as it might seem to backpedal after asking for a recommendation, there’s one thing that’s way worse: leaving your connection in the dark about what you’re thinking.

If she knows you’re looking elsewhere, it’s easy enough for her to send emails to the individuals involved in the hiring process and give them a heads up. If that person has no idea, however, you’re doing a good job of making her look bad in front of her colleagues.

2. You Might Come Across Another Job at That Person’s Company Down the Road

So, now you know that ghosting a potential referral doesn’t make a good impression on her or her colleagues, but what happens when you find another job at the company that sounds way more interesting than the first one?

If the previous section of this article clicked with you, you can probably guess that it would be incredibly uncomfortable to approach that person with another referral request. When you go silent after asking someone to refer you for a job, it’s natural for that person to think, “Wow, why should I ever help this person again? All she did was leave me out to dry the first time—and now my boss makes me eat lunch by myself in a maintenance closet.”

That last part might be a bit of an exaggeration, but when it comes to making someone look bad in front of her colleagues, don’t be surprised if that person isn’t pumped about helping you down the road.

3. You’ll Need This Person’s Help Again in One Way or Another

Even beyond open roles at someone’s company, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve offered to help someone with a resume and cover letter after being asked—only to get radio silence for a few months.

And that’s the thing: When someone says yes to a referral request, he’s ready to help you then. Leaving him out in the cold, with no information about what you’re thinking, is incredibly frustrating. So, in the likely chance that you need to reach out to him again in the future for another favor, there’s a good chance you’ll get a healthy dose of radio silence yourself.

And even if he’s kind enough to respond, the experience of essentially having you disappear after your initial referral request (and having to explain to his co-workers that not all his friends are flakes) is probably stuck in his memory—and in all likelihood, he’ll tell you he “doesn’t have the spare time” to lend a helping hand this second.

Getting referred for a job is a huge advantage that you should never take for granted. But here’s the thing: It’s also perfectly OK to decide at some point during the interview process that you’re no longer interested in the gig.

Sure, it might seem like the worst thing to do to a connection, but it’s an even worse thing to make the decision and keep it to yourself. Many people understand of how difficult it is to find the right job, and even if the introduction they’ve made doesn’t pan out, they won’t mind nearly as much as you think.

The only time it becomes a real problem, though, is when you ghost your referral. And the solution to avoiding that is simple—use your fingers and send her a quick email about your thinking. Those five minutes will be well worth it in the future.

Photo of person on phone courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.