When searching for a job, it’s very easy to forget that the world doesn’t stop for you. Every time you talk with someone, you bite back the jealousy that they’re currently living in the black, that they know where their next paycheck is coming from, and that they can afford everything you want. It’s hard; I know. But letting those feelings—those “C’mon, how big are your problems really? I want to go to work!” feelings—effect how you interact with contacts going to bat for you is a big no no.

I’m sure you’ve been on both sides of this—the connecter and the connectee—and you know the basics: don’t seem desperate, don’t beg, don’t apply too much pressure, etc. But there’re likely some things you haven’t considered, things more complex than not sending mass emails looking for a job.


The Finer Points of Job-Communication Etiquette

Hopefully, if you’re looking for a job right now, you have a bit of a financial runway. Though the myth that it takes a month for every 10k of your previous salary has been debunked, it can take quite a bit of time to find the right position at the right company.

But, whether or not you actually have this runway, you have to act like you do. While it is true that contacts are much more likely to help you get the job you want, it often takes time for offers to materialize. Project the image that you can hang on, that you’re not frantically searching and eating ramen every night, even if you are. Especially if you are, in fact.

Because that’s not attractive, and, just like you need to sell your skills and experience to a new company, you need to sell your stability, level-headedness, and ability to adjust to corporate timelines to your contacts. It takes a lot for someone to go to bat for you, especially someone you’ve connected with in the context of business. Sure, you might have impressed them when you two worked together on a cross-brand marketing campaign, but what they’ll really want to see, and what will determine whether or not they actually help you the way they could, is how you behave in dire circumstances.

Though you may have, on paper, everything you need to get a new job, your attitude, your desperation, what you’re doing with yourself during these days of unemployment: these are the things your contacts will consider before leveraging their network on your behalf.

As such, there are things you should never say.


5 Things You Should Never Say to Contacts Helping You Search for a Job

  • “I’ve applied for so many jobs. Why am I not getting any callbacks?” Statements like this send up a number of red flags to contacts who might be interested in helping you. First and foremost, it communicates that you either don’t have your documents (resume, cover letter, work samples, etc) in good shape, or that you’re attempting to transition into a profession you’re not qualified for. I don’t think I need to say this, but statements like these also smack of desperation. Are you just applying to apply? I hope not.
  • “I’m thinking of becoming [a profession that has nothing to do with my experience].” When recommending someone for a job, contacts want to have faith that, if you get it, you’ll do it well. If you’re looking to transition to something totally unrelated to your past, you’d better well lay out (and complete) a visible educational framework that details steps you’ve taken to professionalize toward the new position with work samples showing you can get the job done.
  • “Sure, that sounds interesting. It can’t be as hard as what I was doing before.” Unless you’re transitioning from heart surgeon to pillow tester, don’t say anything that invalidates work or effort of those surrounding your contact. It’s insulting. I recently had someone say it to me, and I’ve conveniently lost their contact information.
  • “I’m not interested in doing that” (when offered stop-gap work that could help you professionalize toward a career your contact may have in mind for you). Chances are, your experience doesn’t match up 1-to-1 with what a contact’s company needs. If they offer you freelance/consulting projects, take them. It’s almost always a test to see if you can do the quality of work they need, and you get some $$$ and work samples in the mean time.
  • “This is my unemployment beard.” I apologize for gendering this (I’m sure there are unemployment pony tails too), but visual representations that you call attention to of just how long you’ve been unemployed kills contact enthusiasm. Unemployment isn’t a lot in life; it’s not a disease you have. It’s a phase, a problem that needs a solution. Going grisly and sardonic aren’t going to help your case because, even if you’re interviewing every day, it looks like you’re giving up. Contacts don’t help people who are giving up.

Selling yourself to your contacts is an immensely important part of the job transition process. If you’re not being respectful, open, optimistic, realistic, and hygienic, you’re setting yourself up for failure from the start. Every interaction with your contact is like an interview: an interview for help, for a possible position, whatever. If you don’t treat it that way, how far do you actually expect to get?