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Advice / Job Search / Networking

What You Can (and Can't) Ask for on Behalf of the New Grad in Your Life

Looking for a job takes effort—and networking and multiple resumes and various drafts of your cover letter—at any stage. But it’s particularly challenging as a recent grad. Everything is new, and everyone makes some embarrassing mistakes and learns through trial by fire.

So, if this experience is (thankfully) in the rearview mirror, and you know a recent grad you really believe in, you might want to share your hard-earned lessons and contacts.

Without a doubt, paying it forward is admirable. The problem arises when you make a totally unreasonable (translation: uncomfortable) ask of your contact—on behalf of a 22-year-old she’s never even met. Too often, people think that asking for a favor for someone else, especially a recent grad, gives them carte blanche. In other words, while you’d never call a friend up out of the blue and ask for a job for yourself, it’s suddenly OK to ask someone to find a way to hire your niece or nephew.

So, before you start asking (a.k.a. scaring) your network, here are a few reminders of what you can—and can’t—ask for on behalf of someone else. They may not say it so many words, but your contacts will be forever grateful—and more inclined to help!—if you follow these rules.

1. Don’t Ask for a Job

I don’t usually write career advice in absolutes. But let me say this: Never ask a contact to give someone else a job. (Even if there are some specific, pre-existing circumstances, it’s best to broach the matter in such a way that the other person is still the one to extend the offer.)

There’s simply no way to soften the presumptuousness of asking a contact to hire someone. Saying this recent grad will “take any job” doesn’t make it any better. Saying he or she can “just grab coffee and make copies” doesn’t make it any better. Saying he or she is a friendly, responsible valedictorian—nothing makes this ask any better. Even an unpaid job requires commitments of money and time in the form of supervision, training, and physical space.

Do Ask Where to Look for a Job

A much better—and more diplomatic—option is to ask where your brilliant, personable recent grad should look for a job. This provides you with an opportunity to brag (and even pass on a resume), because you’re not explicitly asking this person to get your former neighbor or client’s child a job. And, you could learn some valuable insider info you wouldn’t have known otherwise.

Additionally, it allows your contact the opportunity to be gracious. I would bet that if he does know of a job or internship that could be a fit, he’ll pass along the posting (and maybe even offer to make an introduction). Plus, when it comes from a place of generosity—rather than feeling like he has to play defense or patronize you—he’ll be more motivated to help.

2. Don’t Ask for a Meeting

So, you know better than to ask your busy, impressive contact if she has an hour or two to meet for lunch before the end of the month. And yet, you think that if it’s on behalf of someone with one-tenth of your experience and no shared history, suddenly, her schedule will clear up?

Do Ask for an Email Address

A much better strategy is to ask if you can share your contact’s email address with a recent grad who has a few questions about the industry. Again, asking gives her the option to say “yes” or “no.” If she says “no,” you know that she wouldn’t have been able to provide much help anyhow—saving everyone involved time and awkward exchanges. If she says, “yes,” she’s already mentally preparing to correspond with the grad. (Translation: Your 20-something contact can start building his or her network—without putting pressure or time constraints on this impressive contact.)

Finally, don’t pass the contact information along and be done with it. Ask the recent grad to send you a draft of his or her questions as well as to be cc’d on the initial email. This way, you can save him or her from making any of these networking mistakes.

3. Don’t Ask for a Resume Review

For people who don’t review resumes as part of their jobs (i.e., if you’re reaching out to anyone who isn’t regularly involved in hiring), reviewing a resume is actually a bit of a strange ask. For starters, he or she might not know what advice to provide. Should he scan for length, formality, qualifications, or maybe font?

Do Ask for Industry-Specific Tips

It’s much preferable to ask someone if he could pass along any best practices in his industry. For example, is this a field where creative resumes might give you an edge—or where they’re expected? Or maybe this recent grad is interested in applying to a federal job, for which she’ll need to follow a whole different set of rules. Or perhaps she’s interested in a company where all new hires have advanced language or coding skills, and your contact can tell you that she should highlight those abilities.

In a world where who you know can get you in the door faster than what you know, recent grads need the support of their networks. And by reaching out in a thoughtful, reasonable manner, you’re not just helping this young person make valuable connections. You’re also demonstrating how to go about asking a contact for a favor—a lesson that will prove valuable for the rest of his or her career.

Photo of graduation cap courtesy of Shutterstock.