I’m Sorry, But I Can’t Help With Your Job Search
You may be reading this because you asked me to talk about a job search, or to help someone you know find a job. I’m guessing I respectfully declined.
I’ve had many similar versions of this conversion over the past decade; I thought it might be helpful to put all my thoughts in one place.
Here’s why I won’t be able to help—and what I can offer instead.
I Am Probably Not The Right Person
The simple fact is this: I haven’t looked for a job, had a job interview or updated my resume in 20 years. I have no idea who is hiring, I don’t know which companies are best to work for, and I definitely don’t know what roles are available. It’s probably fair to say I am not a “job guy.”
Whenever someone asks me to be on the lookout for job, especially for roles outside of my industry or experience set, I give an honest response: I’m not a headhunter, and unless you are family or a close friend, I’m not going to dedicate the time to find the right job for you.
There are many areas where I give my time and energy to others, but career assistance is something I have specifically chosen to avoid, based on both my interests and experience. By saying no to these requests, I believe I can make a greater contribution elsewhere.
I Use My Network Carefully
Often, the reason I get job search requests is because I have a strong network. But I’ve built that network by being very protective of other people’s time and making sure my asks of other people are win-win.
Many people only reach out to their networks when they need something—a job, for example. But let’s be honest, no one is excited when a person they haven’t spoken to in years only reaches out when they need something. That approach feels very transactional.
If you haven’t “caught up” with someone in years, don’t make the first time you do coincide with when you need their help.
My personal networking philosophy has been shaped largely by two books, Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People and Keith Ferrazzi’s more recent Never Eat Alone. According to both authors, effective networking is built on genuine connections and mutual value creation.
Here’s an example of a request that doesn’t meet that standard—the facts are generic, but I get this type of note all the time:
“Hey Bob, it’s been a while since we’ve caught up. A friend of mine, Becky, is looking for a new role as a VP of Finance. I wanted to see if you knew anyone who might be hiring, or what companies might be good for her to look into that have a good culture, reputation, etc. Thanks, Jeff.”
There are a few issues with this approach. First, I haven’t heard from Jeff in years, and I don’t know Becky at all. Second, as referenced earlier, I’m not the right person for this type of ask. I don’t have any reason to be monitoring which companies are looking for a VP of Finance, which should also be clear if that person is familiar with what I do and my areas of focus. Plus, the ask is barely personalized; it feels as if Jeff is copying, pasting and sending the same message to his entire network.
Jeff means well. But his style of approach makes me less interested in helping Becky and frustrated with Jeff for asking. I believe people should be especially judicious about asking people in their network to go out of their way for people they don’t know. These requests are often done for the wrong reason; they often aim to pay down a network debt, or build up networking credit, leveraging someone else’s currency.
Here’s an example of what I mean: A few years ago, a childhood friend I had lost contact with reached out to ask for my help in finding an internship for their family friend, a recent college graduate in the Boston area. I politely declined for the reasons above, but when he persisted, I became curious about his motivation. Eventually, I discovered it: the job hunter’s father had helped my childhood friend find his first job many years ago, and he was trying to return the favor.
In other words, my friend owed someone a favor and he wanted my help to fulfill his obligation, or “debt.” As you can imagine, I had very little interest in dedicating time and energy to an entry level job search for someone I didn’t know, at the behest of someone I hadn’t talked to in 20 years. Some people may feel that is a selfish response, but I believe it was a selfish ask, even if inadvertently. I don’t keep score with networking, but I also don’t ask people to go out of their way for things that don’t benefit them in any way or aren’t connected to their areas of interest.
Had the ask been something specific—for example, an intro to someone I know who had posted an internship that the candidate was interested in–I would have been more than happy to help. That brings us to the last point.
You Should Do The Heavy Lifting
When asking for networking help—especially with something as important as a job search—it’s crucial to make the lift as light as possible for the person you are asking for help to demonstrate that you value their time. Don’t just ask someone if they can help find a job for you or someone you know—be much more specific with your asks.
Recently, I wanted to have a well-known thought leader on my podcast. I saw that the person had been on the podcast of a colleague with whom I have a great relationship and reached out to her and asked if she would make an introduction. I also offered to send a personalized paragraph she could cut and paste into the email request, which also put her in a positive light for presenting a new opportunity to the guest. It took her less than a minute to make the intro with my pre-written note in her voice, and within two days I had the person confirmed as a guest on my show.
If you offer to do the heavy lifting when networking, and follow through on that offer, people will be far more willing to help you and you will get better results. People are far less interested in helping others who ask more of them than they demonstrate a willingness to do themselves.
Let’s return to the example of Jeff and Becky I shared earlier. In most cases, I would respond to Jeff honestly and say that, while I regret being unable to help, I am not up to date on who in my network is hiring or even who works where. I definitely don’t know offhand if anyone in my network needs a VP of Finance.
However, I would then make this offer: if Jeff or Becky identify a specific role that Becky is a fit for, at a company where they can see I have a high-level LinkedIn contact, I am generally happy to make a warm intro. All I ask is that Jeff or Becky send me a resume and a few paragraphs about why she would be a good fit for that specific company and role, so that I can set up the intro with context.
This is also the best approach for Becky. Let’s say you’re hiring a VP of Finance yourself. Which note are you more likely to respond to?
Hi Jim, it’s been a while. Are you looking for a VP of Finance? I know a candidate who would probably be a good fit—let me know if you’re interested.
Hi Jim, I saw that you are looking for a VP of Finance. I happen to know a highly qualified candidate—they have 10 years of experience at the Acme Company, and they have a proven track record of delivering the type of sophisticated, detail-oriented work that you like your employees to show. Here is her resume and brief background of her work experience. Let me know if you’re interested; I’m happy to connect the two of you.
I have offered the option above to over 100 people over the years and only one or two people have taken me up on it. I think this is due to the fact that people too often fall into the trap of focusing on high volume networking, rather than high quality. When I ask them to do the heavy lifting for their own request, they suddenly aren’t as interested in the help.
To be clear, it’s not that I’m not interested in helping. I am just protective of both my network and my time.
When someone in my network shows me that they respect my time, are willing to put in the work and bring a well-thought-out, specific ask, I am almost always willing to help. That is especially true if they can share a well written note from me that I can just copy and paste to easily set up an introduction.
One last thing: we probably don’t need to meet in person. It’s commonplace for networkers to ask to meet to catch-up over drinks, lunch or coffee. That’s fine if you’re genuinely interested in catching up. But if the real reason for taking me out to lunch is to make an ask, let’s both save the time and skip the pleasantries. It’s probably better to just ask for what you need and if I can help you, I will.
By the way—while many people may not talk about these concepts openly, I know for sure based on numerous conversations that I am definitely not the only person who holds these sentiments. Therefore, it may be helpful to network with some of these same principles in mind.