How many times have you asked to make an introduction, facilitate a professional connection or provide a reference?
When you are asked do you light up and think to yourself I’m delighted to make this connection or provide a reference? Or do you experience frustration and think I don’t know this person and they are asking me for something that isn’t reasonable?
I write this short post for two reasons. First with PCDN we strive to provide the tools, information and resources to help you build a career of impact. We do this in many ways from our Career Series, our Social Change Career Helping Line, our Social Change Career Podcast and our Career Coaching Services . Thus this post may help others as you navigate your career. Second as a former full time professor for 10 years and founder of PCDN I get countless requests on a weekly and sometimes daily basis to make an introduction and/or provide a connections. Some of these requests are very reasonable and I’m happy to help. Other times the requests make me honestly cringe a bit and I politely decline.
I know that many positions are filled by networking (by some estimates in DC networking plays a critical role in filling over 80% of positions). Of course one still needs to apply but having someone put in a good word can help with ensuring your application get a stronger review.
Before getting into some dos and not dos I want to highlight one key guideline when asking someone to provide an introduction, facilitate a connection or reference. The number one rule should be is this is a reasonable request to make based on my connection or relationship to the person I’m asking for assistance?What this means in practice is do you have a pre-existing connection where you know each other, have worked together, or have interacted in a professional or personal capacity. If the answer is that you’ve never met the person before this doesn’t mean you cannot ask for some assistance, but the request should be a light touch rather and a deep request for assistance.
We are all working for social change and facilitating collaboration is a wonderful endeavor. I’m a natural born connector and love personally meeting with new people from different sectors to learn, share ideas and sometimes actually find ways of working together. I also enjoy connecting people in a professional matchmaking sense (not romantically, but to see what amazing professional things can be cooked up). In my many years in the social sector and connecting others, there have been some amazing outcomes and of course some real failures but I feel in part that I am born to connect despite some challenges.
Here are some key dos and do nots from my experience (of course feel free to disagree or add your own list).
Please Don’t Do This When Asking for an Introduction or a Reference
- If you don’t have a professional relationship with someone please don’t ask that person to serve as a reference for a job, academic program, etc. I’ve been asked countless times by people I don’t know to do just this and isn’t fair or ethical. I’ve been also asked more times than I can remember to make an introduction to hiring officer by someone I don’t know professionally. This is a truly awkward request to make. Connectors only have a limited bandwidth and number of introductions we can make.
This requires some of our vouch capital or social capital and when making a reference we want strive to ensure it is a good match. It isn’t reasonable to do to this for someone without any direct connection or knowledge of his/her work.
- Don’t ask for a reference with a very short turnaround. A colleague whom I admire once asked me I highly admire to do a reference letter for an opening within 24 hours. This doesn’t mean I didn’t do it, but this was a big ask (particularly because she didn’t make it an easy ask) and not one I did happily in this particular case.
- Please don’t demand. Using polite language such as I would like to see if you might be open (this is one time passive language can be your friend) to helping with this could make a world of difference.
- Give an Out. Making a request is fine, but also realize people are busy, may not want to make an intro for a variety of reasons, etc. Thus similar to not demanding giving an out to the person you’re asking for help is a smart thing to do.
- Don’t be a taker but a giver. There are some people who seek help with introductions or references in a purely transactional manner. Please try not to be this person, meaning someone who not only makes requests for help (we all do this) when you need something. Practice what you preach and make sure you try to help others in your network where appropriate.
Things to Do When Asking for a Introduction or Reference
- Try to make the request one that will spark joy in the connector. I know this sounds ridiculous but please put some thought into language and the type of request you’re making. Often providing a short context about the type of intro you’re seeking and why can make all the difference.
- Provide context but keep it short. We are all inundated by information these days. My ideal request is one that keeps it short but still provides enough content or an update of how you’re doing.
- Make it easy. If you’re asking for an intro and your connector agrees, make this as easy as possible. Provide a bio, or a resume and if appropriate offer to write a draft of the email that your helper may send. Also learn how to write amazing recommendation letters as increasingly recommenders may ask you to write a draft letter. I’ve done this and I can tell you when I get a draft letter that is strong and I only need to make some tweaks, it is much more pleasant than a poor draft letter that takes a lot of work.
- Follow Up when Possible and Say Thanks. Today a mutual friend facilitated an intro and connection that was unsolicited on both sides. We had an amazing meeting and all sorts of new collaboration possibilities emerged from our first meeting. We both passed on our thanks to our mutual connector. Also if you’re asking for a recommendation letter take some time to send a thank you email or send an actual thank you card to the people who write your letters.
- Ask with reasonable time. Deadlines do happen. But asking in advance with a reasonable amount of time is key to keeping happy relationships.
- Follow up if needed. Twice recently I failed to respond in a timely manner to introduction a colleague made that the person thought would be mutually beneficially. I appreciated that the person followed up with a reminder and now I’ve setup meetings. Don’t follow up too often.
These are some recent key reflections in the past few weeks when connecting others or writing a reference letter has been something I’ve done with appreciation compared to some requests that are not reasonable or sparked the opposite of joy. What has been your experience in asking for help or being the connector? What are your recommendations for others?