Published: Sep 29, 2020
In an ideal world, your network will be vast and everyone in it will be a really good friend or mentor who always has your back. But here’s the truth that no one will tell you: Not everyone in your network is someone you necessarily want there. Networking connections can be less than ideal for several reasons, and it can be tough to know how to interact with them. So let’s go over five of the worst types of connections out there and how to deal with them in a way that’s professional.
The Needy One
Let me preface this by saying it is okay to ask for help. Asking your friends and family for help getting an interview or putting your resume in front of the right person is fine—you’re allowed. But there are people out there who don’t have a great sense for when they’re asking for too much. Meeting for coffee or an informational interview is acceptable—and often welcomed—but when someone’s gunning for your attention, a favor, or a meeting and they’re never out of your inbox, it can be really frustrating. You shouldn’t feel obligated to help someone every single time they ask. If you’ve got a needy networking contact, do what you have the mental energy to do, but break it off when you feel they’ve worn out their welcome. You can do this by citing a busy next few weeks or hinting that they’re in a great place to go shopping their resume around now that you’ve given them some assistance. I wouldn’t recommend ghosting—there’s no need to burn bridges—but it’s okay to draw a line.
The One You Can’t Vouch For
Much as we love our friends and family, we all have that friend or cousin who doesn’t take their job very seriously, is tough to work with, or otherwise isn’t the best employee. This isn’t the person you want to sell to your company or other networking contacts. It would reflect poorly on your character at work, and I think it’s natural to feel stuck between the potential embarrassment and hurting your friend’s feelings. In these instances, focus on steering your friend toward helpful resources instead of making introductions or writing a reference. Distance yourself from the actual job search with a simple explanation like, “I don’t have any useful connections at the moment.” Instead, refer your connection to useful tools like industry publications, events, or job boards. Of course, you also have to know your limits here. If your unreliable friend is looking for you to do all the legwork or pushes you into an uncomfortable position, pump the brakes.
The One with Whom Your Ideals/Politics/Morals Clash
This type of contact is a really tricky one to navigate. It’s the kind of thing that can break apart close friendships, so imagine what different ideals can do to a professional relationship. The results can be explosive—so my first piece of advice here is to be very careful moving forward. Now, it is very possible to be friendly with people whose opinions are different than yours. For example, one of my closest friends and I sit on exact opposite spectrums of the pro-life/pro-choice debate—a very charged subject, to be sure. Our solution has been, for our 10 years of friendship, to just not discuss the matter. That is certainly one tactic to employ when you and a networking contact feel very differently on an important issue. However, sometimes these things can be subtler: I once met up for an informational interview with another editor, only to realize that the subject matter his publication dealt with was something I was morally opposed to working with. He was a nice person, but I realized about five minutes into our discussion that I didn’t want to progress this relationship any further—imagine the world’s worst blind date. So after we chatted for a bit and he gave me a feel for what he does, I told him in my most polite tone that it was wonderful to meet him, that I appreciated his time and how passionate he is about his work, but that the subject matter his publication dealt with wasn’t one that interested me. He was understanding about it, recognized that the material wasn’t for everybody, and we parted on amicable terms. In my experience with this situation, the best thing to do is make a clean but respectful break.
This may be the most frustrating of our not-so-awesome connections. This is the person who promises to hook you up but never manages to follow through. And the flakes come in all shapes and sizes, from folks who are trying their best but are unbelievably busy to people who over-promise and either can’t (or can’t be bothered to) deliver. In this scenario, usually the person who’s flaking is also the one who’s doing you a favor—but they’re also not making good on their word, so it’s natural to be caught somewhere between, “I should be grateful they tried,” and, “This is incredibly frustrating.” The key to flakes is knowing who you’re dealing with—as in, not expecting too much from them. For those who are trying but also insanely busy, be compassionate, and try to catch them when things aren’t so crazy. For those who over-promise, I won’t advise you to be outright cynical, but … you’ve probably learned not to expect much from them. It’s prudent to ask and to follow-up when appropriate, but don’t put all your eggs in that basket.
The Helpful-But-Not-Very One
Otherwise known as, “He a little confused, but he got the spirit.” This networking connection is very sweet, that much is for certain. They want to help you get your dream job, but they don’t always know what you’re looking for. I’m sure this situation is familiar to many people: You say you’re looking for a job as, say, a UX developer for a startup. They say, “Oh, you should talk to my son—he’s an electrical engineer at GE! He knows tech stuff.” And, yes, that’s a very kind offer—but not a very helpful one. The good news about these networking contacts is that they’re just trying to help you. A polite refusal with a reasonable explanation should correct the issue. In the above example, for instance, you might say, “Thank you for the offer, but what I do doesn’t really have much to do with engineering—I’d hate to take up your son’s time with questions outside his expertise.” This may prompt your contact to ask for clarification, and who knows? They may have someone else in their deck who you have more in common with.
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