You Don’t Need to Feel Guilty When You’re Networking for a Job

networking series
Don't Feel Guilty When You're Networking for a Job

Guilt is a great motivator. You eat a cookie. You feel guilty. You go to the gym.

It’s not like I’m speaking from personal experience. 

Guilt is also a great demotivator. Especially when it comes to networking. So many people I’ve worked with as a career and executive coach worry that they’ll be “bothering people” if they reach out to them to do some networking. 

I’ve never thought of myself as a mindset coach, but let me play one for a few minutes. It’s a little out of character, but I’ll try.

You don’t need to feel guilty about your networking. You don’t. 

And how do I know this? When I was working as an executive recruiter, I quickly realized that I would need to reach out to hundreds, no, thousands of people. All of them are busy. Most of them were not planning their day around hearing from me. Surely, I was going to be “bothering them.” 

I wasn’t. I was actually doing them a favor.

Let me tell you how.


Strengthening your network strengthens the networks of other people

It may not be obvious at first. It wasn’t to me. When you network for a job or your career, you’re actually strengthening the networks of the people you’re reaching out to. 

If you read my previous post in this series about networking that encourages you to build and maintain momentum while you're networking through referrals, then you’re halfway to understanding — or at least to a better mindset.

Most people I work with feel uncomfortable about the imbalance they perceive in networking exchanges. They’re asking for something, and they feel like they have little or even nothing to give in return.

So they feel guilty, and they quickly lose confidence. And without confidence, their networking grinds to a halt.


Strategy: Remember that you, too, are worth knowing

Even executive recruiters, who are essentially professional networkers, can lose their confidence from time to time. This may be especially true when they reach out to more senior people in their industry of focus. 

When I was a recruiter at a top 20 executive search firm, I frequently managed searches for high-level roles with high-profile clients. That meant that I would be reaching out to some fairly important people. 

From time to time, I would worry that I wasn’t worthy of approaching these people with their many years of experience and storied reputations to match. In these situations where I was feeling less than, I had to remind myself that I could one day serve as the gatekeeper for a fantastic job opportunity that might happen to be the capstone role of that person’s career. 

Even though I didn’t always feel it, I came to understand that I was a person worth knowing. While I might have been an unanticipated addition to the busy day of my next high-flying networking contact, I wasn’t showing up empty-handed.

I was offering a delayed benefit.


How you can apply this strategy

I know what you’re thinking. I was working at a top 20 executive search firm. The promise of potential future benefit in the form of a job was always in the air. 

You can’t necessarily offer something like that. But then again, maybe you can. 

Think it through.

Let’s say that your networking effort is a success, in part due to the help you’ve received from the people in your newly-formed network. You’ll be on an upward trajectory in the same industry as your networking contacts. And when someone like me — an executive recruiter — is looking to fill an important role in that very same industry, who am I going to call for feedback, ideas and referrals? 


You see, you too may serve a role in the gatekeeping process for the capstone role of your networking contact’s career. When an executive recruiter calls you for a referral and you suggest they reach out to that very same contact who helped you out a few years ago, your recommendation is going to mean something. Even if you’re not the only one to make the suggestion, it’s all additive. Multiple referrals only serve to bolster the recruiter’s confidence in the lead.

And that’s not the only situation in which you can be helpful. As a more junior person in the same industry, you may have a valuable, fresh perspective that you can share. If you end up staying in touch or even working together at some point down the road, you could put in a good word for your networking contact with a potential employer or even serve as a reference. There are probably dozens of ways you could potentially repay the favor.

The point is — your value to your networking contacts will likely grow over time as your career progresses and you become more experienced and visible. So their investment in you is a good one.

You don’t realize that yet. But they do. They’ve been around longer than you. 


Your networking reunites old friends

When you get referrals from a networking contact, who are those people? They’re likely the old friends and colleagues of your networking contacts, that’s who. 

And how long do you think it might have been since your networking contact was in touch with the people they’ve referred you to? Days? Weeks? I’d wager a bet that, in most cases, your networking contacts are referring you to people they might not have been in touch with for months or even years. 



Executive recruiters — making all their calls and getting all those referrals and introductions — realize that they are serving as the glue that binds, reconnects and strengthens networks within industries. 



Strategy: Be the glue that binds networks of people together

Executive recruiters — making all their calls and getting all those referrals and introductions — realize that they are serving as the glue that binds, reconnects and strengthens networks within industries. 

Forward-thinking people in their industry realize this and want to help facilitate those connections and be a part of that interconnected network of leaders.


How you can apply this strategy

I’m not going to claim that by sending a few emails and making a few calls that you can single-handedly create a sense of community in your industry. Still, you can definitely be a part of what makes that interconnectedness possible.

As I mentioned above, it can be easy to feel guilty or worry that you’ll be bothering people with your networking messages and requests. And yes, the power dynamic and exchange might seem a little out of balance. You’re asking for guidance and help, and what do you have to offer in return? 

More than you think.

You’re likely doing the people you reach out to a favor. And by doing them that favor, you're absolved of all (well, most of) your guilt.

Many people I know and work with bemoan the fact that they’re not good at keeping in touch with their own network of friends and former colleagues. Then you come along asking for referrals. 

If you do as I’ve suggested and ask for introductions, you’re prompting your networking contacts to reach out to their old friends. These may very likely be people that your networking contact hasn’t spoken with or exchanged messages with in quite a while: months, maybe even years. 

When you follow up on the referral, you’ll very likely hear the person you’ve been introduced to say: “Oh yes — she said you might be in touch. You know, it was so nice to hear from her. We hadn’t exchanged messages in over a year. It was great to hear how she and her family are doing. Now how can I help you?” 

Without you, it might have been another year or two or three (or never) before these two were in touch again. 

You’ve done them a favor. And they’re likely grateful for it. Don’t you feel good?

And not guilty at all.



In the next post

If you’ve been following this series and have taken action on some of the strategies I’ve suggested, I hope you’re feeling a little more optimistic and confident about your ability to network effectively.

That’s great. That’s also a problem.

It’s possible that you could be overconfident. Confidence is good, but it can also lead you to create networking goals that are too high, too soon. If you don’t meet your goals, you could end up back at square one — lacking confidence and wondering if you should really be reaching out to all of these important people in the first place.

In the next post, I’ll be addressing goal-setting as it relates to networking. Here’s a preview: I’ll be cutting you some slack. 



next post in the Networking Strategy Series → 

previous post in the Networking Strategy Series


Doug Lester is a career strategist and executive coach who has helped over a thousand people craft their work-life narratives and advance meaningful careers. A former Fortune 100 marketing executive and recruiter at a top 20 executive search firm, he is the founder of Career Narratives and has been on the coaching staff at the Harvard Business School for over 10 years. He also leads an executive coaching program for the corporate strategy group of a Fortune 100 company in Boston.

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