Without any prompting, someone in your network offers to introduce you to a mover-and-shaker. Who would be crazy enough to turn that opportunity down?
Believe it or not, that would be you, because there is an instance in which your most professional option is to decline. Read on to learn when you should make it work, when you should say, “No thank you,” and how to do both.
1. Scenario: You’re Swamped
Your Best Bet: Agree to the Introduction
First things first, let’s dispel what you might think is a good excuse (but really isn’t). Being busy is not a good enough reason to turn down an introduction. Sure, your contact is reaching out on his schedule—which may seem like it operates in a different universe than yours—but if you reply with, “Thank you so much, I’m just too busy right now,” you can bet this contact won’t be offering to make another introduction anytime soon.
Why? Because even though you didn’t mean it that way, it sounds like you think your time is more valuable than his. Instead, use positive reinforcement, and outline your time constraints from the outset.
Your response might look something like this: “Thank you so much for offering to reach out to Sara on my behalf. I really appreciate it, and I look forward to connecting with her! Unfortunately, I’m leaving town tomorrow/on deadline/moving. Could I email you about connecting us once I’ve come up for air in two weeks, so I won’t seem like I’m blowing her off?”
2. Scenario: You’re Changing Fields
Your Best Bet: Decline the Introduction
One of the benefits of meeting through a mutual contact is that the person you are connecting with for the first time will likely to be interested in helping you. You might bond over how you both know your mutual acquaintance, but then you’ll move to talking about your careers.
Which is where it gets tricky.
Say your new contact inquires about your interest in the field, asks what questions you have for someone in his role, or offers to connect you with another person or opportunity. If this meeting is perfunctory (because you’ve had one foot out the door of the industry for months), your choices are faking interest or coming clean. The former choice is a charade you’ll have to end at some point (“Actually, I don’t want to talk to someone in HR”), and the latter includes an awkward conversation with your ambassador after the fact.
Some would argue it’s worth taking the meeting and being upfront about your career transition because, hey, who knows how the talk will go? But here’s the problem with that premise: This new person doesn’t know you from Adam. He knows your mutual contact (you know, the one who told him you did something else, and who you have yet to tell that you actually hate your job). Basically, it makes everyone look terribly disorganized. Moreover, if the new person does have magic contacts in both fields, wouldn’t it be better for your mutual acquaintance to introduce you as an aspiring musician—rather than an expert coder—from the very beginning?
Your response should look something like this: “Thank you so much for offering to introduce me to a local contact in engineering. I truly appreciate you thinking of me! I’m actually thinking about making a career change, and I know how incredible busy Sara must be, so I wouldn’t want to waste her time. Thank you again, and I’ll be sure to keep you posted where I land.”
Meeting someone new is worthwhile, as long as the meeting is worth everyone’s time. Being both grateful and candid with your contacts will allow them to help you.
Photo of sign courtesy of Shutterstock.
Sara McCord most often writes about making a better professional impression. She's been published on Mashable (where she was a regular career contributor), as well as Forbes, Newsweek, TIME, Inc., and Business Insider. A Staff Writer/Editor for The Muse, Sara has experience managing programs; recruiting, interviewing, and referring job applicants; building strategic partnerships; advising executive directors; and supporting a national network of volunteers. See more of her writing on her website or follow her on Twitter @sarajmccord.More from this Author