If there’s one thing that makes job seekers more nervous than networking, it might be asking people for favors. The fact that the two activities are separate often goes unnoticed, as low-income job seekers sometimes see networking as a favor in itself.
Well, just to clear things up: networking is the process of connecting with new and familiar people to find out more about them and tell them about you. Asking for favors is… asking for favors. Sure, networking can turn into a favor if you beg for a meeting, but for the most part it’s a mutual exercise and no one needs to feel too indebted.
This distinction is important because sometimes you really need a favor to get a job. Indeed, you may even need to pull some strings or leverage a relationship to get something done.
Depending on your experience or your family or cultural background, it may seem totally normal or totally inappropriate, or anything in between. No matter how you think about the concept of asking for a favor while job hunting, you probably can’t escape the need to do it once in a while.
Here’s a brief Five-W intro to serve as a guide, with a bonus “How To” added.
Why ask for a favor when looking for a job. The reasons why you might need a helping hand can be quite varied. You may have hit a wall trying to find a contact name, for example, or your CV may not have reached the right person. Maybe you need a meeting with someone or some inside information to keep you from taking a wrong step in your process.
In general, the more delicate the situation (such as an internal promotion) or the more important the position is for you, the more motivation you will have to ask for help.
Who to ask. Or who, to be grammatical, but who doesn’t have the same ring in the Five-W list. In any case, you will logically ask the person most likely to have the information you want. Unfortunately, it may not be the same person who owes you a favor or with whom you already have a relationship. Ultimately, you may decide to ask Person A to get Person B’s information, in order to make the most of the relationships already established.
What to ask. This is where nuance can come in handy. If you know this person very well, a direct question might work: “What is the search committee looking for? But since that might make someone else uncomfortable, the variation could be, “What do you think candidates should highlight in their documents?” These look identical, but one asks for specific data while the other inspires guidance.
Where to apply. “Where” in this case means “through which communication channel”. While it’s not a delusion to ask someone what they think of a service’s structure, leaving a paper trail isn’t always smart either.
Rather than emailing your specific question, consider emailing to request a quick phone conversation. An exception might be when you need a hand getting someone to see your CV, in which case a short email with the CV attached might be the quickest.
When to ask. The timing of your request will be very specific to the situation, but it’s generally best not to add urgency to the mix. Raising awareness as soon as you know you need help will be better than “please call me tomorrow” requests. On the other hand, if the situation is urgent, relaying it (tactfully) to your contact provides parameters for their response.
How to ask. Even if you’re basing your claim on a story of helping each other, it’s usually not cool to make it look like a debt. “Remember that project I helped you with? It’s time to help me” could leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth. Referring to the relationship can still be done, if you use a more courteous tone: “I’ve always appreciated our ability to collaborate and ask each other for advice. I could use some of your advice now.
We ran from Ws, but there is still one step left: tracking. Asking for a favor without delivering a result can make someone feel used instead of valued. Conversely, even a brief “thank you for yesterday’s help” email can help cement your relationship and keep the door open for the future.
Amy Lindgren owns a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at [email protected]