We know that we should network with everyone and anyone around us, and that can include our friends and neighbors. But sometimes it can feel awkward to network with those closest to us. Following are some common networking friend faux pas – and how to fix them.
1. Asking for a Recommendation When They Don’t Know You Professionally
Sure Bob down the street thinks you’re a great guy, but does he know anything about how you perform your job or what sort of worker you would be? Asking for a job reference can be sticky because he can’t necessarily vouch for you. Even your good friends might not know how hard working you are and might not be a good reference.
There are two drawbacks here – one, they might hesitate to recommend you at all, since they don’t know enough about your work performance, and two, they might not give you the glowing recommendation you deserve since they are not familiar with the particulars of your performance.
If they work at a company or have an in with someone you really want to meet, instead of asking for a recommendation, explain why their contact is important to you and see if they can help facilitate an introduction – without going out on a limb.
2. Expecting That They Know What You Do
Maybe your friend does work at a company you’d love to get in, but has never offered you any sort of entrée. It could be that they have no idea you’re interested! It’s ok to casually bring up your interest in their place of business, explain how the industry fits your skills set and ask if they (or someone else in the industry) might be hiring. You can take your cue from how they respond. If they are enthusiastic and suggest they’d like to help you out, then take the initiative and send them your resume or LinkedIn information and ask if they have a suggestion for next steps. If you feel like they are nonchalant or reticent, take that as a sign that they would rather not get involved – and don’t press.
3. Connecting with Their Contacts
Social media can be a boon for finding out interesting connections and people you know in common. At the same time, it can be awkward if you search someone’s list of contacts and contact them, without first checking with your friend. If you don’t know someone personally, don’t try to connect with them assuming that a friend of a friend is a friend. That isn’t always the case and can make it look like you are overstepping your bounds.
4. Putting a Guilt Trip on Your Friends
You would think this would go without saying, but it happens more than you would think. Say you have a friend in a position of power; perhaps they work at an ad agency and you are a designer who’d like some freelance work. If you have courteously stated your position (as described in Point 2, “Did you know that I have worked with Agency B in the past? I just thought I’d mention it in case your firm ever hires freelance diesinkers. In fact, if you’d like to put me in touch with whomever makes those decisions, I’d sure appreciate it.”) And then say they haven’t responded, or they asked for your resume but then never passed it on — that contact is dead and probing it will only be socially awkward. So be careful that when you’re with them, you don’t bring up your lack of freelance work, or how you wish you could break into more agencies, or any other comment that might make them feel guilty.
Same goes for job hunters. Even if your job hunt is bumming you out, take care to not discuss it in excess with friends, except one or two close friends. Acquaintances might start thinking that there’s a good reason you’re unemployed, and hesitate recommending you even if something appropriate comes along. You want to put your best foot – and face – forward at all times.
5. Making People Uncomfortable
This catch all covers a myriad of situations. It might be portrayed as a guilt trip in No. 4. Or, it could be displayed as someone who can’t stop talking about why others should do business with them. This can be sticky for professions such as real estate agents, financial planners, or other industries where just about anyone can be a prospect. You want to do business with your friends – and let them know you are capable – but you don’t want to be pushy.
A low-key way to acquaint them with your services is to hit them on LinkedIn. If you are active on the site, posting updates, commenting and otherwise sharing your expertise, it’s a great way to prove that you are an accomplished professional without having to tell them over and over. As for selling in person, it’s probably best to stay away from that. You don’t want a business conversation to overtake a social situation. Letting people know what you do is enough that they will know to seek you out if that service or product interests them. It’s easy to tell if you are being overbearing – if people change the conversation when you bring up work, it’s clear that you have gone there too many times!
There are many chances to combine social and business opportunities and turn your friends into “friends with benefits” – business benefits that is. But tread lightly and be aware of the nuances of the situation to make sure you keep the relationship friendly first, business second.
by Cathie Ericson