A friend of mine is a journalist with a forthcoming non-fiction book that’s getting a lot of attention, so much so that she’s regularly invited to speak to groups about the subject matter. Her public visibility also means that she frequently gets emails from people she’s never met asking questions, like:
Can you connect me with someone who can help me get a job at ______?
Can you pass my resume on to your contacts who might be able to hire me?
(Insert long personal story)…what’s your advice about the best way to handle this?
She does what she can, but in most cases, she finds the requests selfish and inappropriate. I would, too. To fulfill the requests wouldn’t just be an expenditure of time. Forwarding a resume or brokering an introduction is like offering a tacit approval of the asker (again, she’s never met these people). It puts her own reputation and relationships at stake. And in almost every case, there’s nothing being offered in return. It’s a win for the asker but a lose for her.
But given how often I write about the importance of initiative here, I can see why–particularly for a 17-year-old who’s learning the ropes of the world outside of high school–there might be some gray area between creating opportunities for yourself and taking selfish shortcuts.
I don’t think there’s a precise metric to follow to make sure you end up on the right side of the spectrum, but here are a few tips:
1. Please read this past post about deserving the help. It could help you avoid some embarrassing missteps.
2. Consider the order of the ask.
3. Be polite. Acknowledge that this person is busy. And if you get a helpful reply, send an effusive and sincere thank-you email, not a follow-up request for more help.
4. Give the person an out. Make it clear that you’ll understand if they aren’t able to help you.
The Internet has made it easy to connect with just about everyone. It’s up to all of us to use those connection powers wisely.