Monday, November 10, 2014

How not to ask for help from a network connection

Looking at my LinkedIn inbox is guaranteed to produce a few "what the?" moments. Really, without fail.

If you've been job searching and/or networking for any period of time, you have probably heard that you should give before you take; offer assistance before you request it. But with massive and diverse social networks, you can't always provide something of value to each person before you need to ask one of them for help. It's cool...most people get it.

But you should, at the very least, make it easy for the people you ask for help to help you. Here's a scenario:

I get a LinkedIn message from someone who is looking for her next position. She starts out by thanking me for being a contact, then provides a pretty long paragraph on her recent responsibilities. The next paragraph is about the titles and roles that she is interested in pursuing. Third paragraph, she starts talking about a technology space that exists and refers to the TV show I can see it on (I don't watch this show and I don't know anyone who does). Next paragraph, more about this technology and the fact that her network is mostly local. Next paragraph, she is asking me if I can direct her to someone who works with this technology - not anyone specifically, just "someone".

So here is the problem: I had to read almost a whole page before I could tell what she was asking me for help with. Second, she asks me to direct her to anyone I might  know working in this (very) niche technology space when she could have searched my network via LinkedIn herself. Third, by the end of the mail, I can't tell whether she is looking for a job or a sales lead.

I always appreciate it when the person asking for my help has taken the time to do some research and is very clear about what they are asking for. For example, if she sent me an email that said she is looking for a new position in this technology space and noticed that Joe Smith in my network works for a company involved in this space, and then requested an introduction, I would have complied immediately. Instead, I got a rambling email that expects me to do the legwork of figuring out who I know in this space. There's only a certain amount of legwork that one can expect a total stranger to do and it's not much.

So unfortunately, this LinkedIn message gets deleted. A few tips for reaching out to someone in your LinkedIn network:

  • Be brief
  • Be clear (about what you are asking for and get to the point quickly)
  • Be specific - if there's work to be done to determine the specific request you are making (for example, the names of people you would like to be referred to), then you are the doer

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