By Caroline M.L. Potter
The rise of social networking has broken down barriers between our personal and our professional lives, and many people are benefiting. But when you turn to one of your buddies for a professional assist with a career opportunity, beware of these networking-with-friends mistakes.
Starting with the Ask
Even if you're desperate, don't begin your conversations with a cry for help. "A common networking-with-friends mistake is to start networking from the perspective of 'here's what you could do for me' rather than a place of 'I want to hear about what's new with you,'" says networking and career expert Liz Ryan. "Friendship is a two-way street. Once your friend feels heard and senses your interest and compassion, she is likely to offer to help you...because of the friendship glue you've established."
Expecting Everyone to Know Your Business
Your professional activities and accomplishments are very important -- to you. No matter how exciting or upsetting your job or job search is, most of your friends won't recall all the details. "Many people will say, 'Here's the latest thing I'm up to,' forgetting that our friends can't possibly remember everything we told them the last time we saw them," Ryan says. It's your job to briefly recap where you're at, thus putting your current news into perspective. For example, she says, "Remind your friend, 'I'm not sure you remember that I've been doing home-and-office organizing these days, and just this week...'"
Cannibalizing Friends' Online Connections
Are you drooling over the fact that a friend is linked in to a high-level Apple exec? You can tell your friend about your desire to work for Apple, but don't ask for an introduction right away. Instead, Ryan recommends that you fill your friend in on your needs or goals, and then wait for him to offer to forward your resume, for instance. You can politely say at that point, "That would be wonderful, and would you by chance also be comfortable introducing me to [the exec]?" If the friend balks at your request, respect his feelings and don't raise the issue again.
Asking for a Recommendation Without Reason
Your friends may be able to speak to a lot of your best qualities and provide character references. But unless you've worked with them in a professional capacity, avoid asking for a professional reference. "It's jarring to get a request for a LinkedIn endorsement from someone we know only as a friend and not in professional life," Ryan says. Don't impose by requesting what would surely be a weak endorsement from someone who isn't really acquainted with your work. According to Ryan, doing so will jeopardize his credibility -- and possibly your friendship. If someone asks you for an unwarranted endorsement, she suggests simply saying, "I wish I knew your work well enough to recommend you" -- and then moving on.
Being a Friend in Need, Not in Deed
Everyone lets some connections slip away over time, but don't reconnect if you're obviously only seeking a favor. Ryan recounts how a friend of hers got a call from an old workmate from 20 years ago who wanted to know what was new with her. The two met for lunch, but before they had placed their drink orders, he said, "So, can you get me a job at your employer?" "If you haven't seen someone in a long time, it's highly inappropriate to invite them to lunch only to hit them up for job leads," Ryan says. "Networking is an activity that needs to be focused on the other person, not on your needs."