Introduction Etiquette

Recently, over the course of one day, I received 3 separate requests to make connections between people to whom I am connected on LinkedIn. I was struck by the different approaches they took, and by my reactions to each message. I’ve changed all the names, but other than that they appear below exactly as I received them.

1.  The first request came from Tim, who was re-locating to my city following his wife’s new job.  He earned his PhD at the same school I did, and had contacted me several weeks ago to ask about my city, where to live, and do on.  After exchanging a few emails, I spoke with him and his wife on the phone, and was able to tell them something about the city to which they were moving, local schools, industry, and so on. A couple weeks after that conversation, he sent the following message through LinkedIn:

“Could you please refer me to Mr. Jones at BigChemicalCompany?  I have applied today online to a Manager, Technology Transfer position with that company. I would greatly appreciate the chance to briefly discuss with him this opportunity and learn more about the work environment at this prestigious company.”

Mr. Jones was a client of mine from several years go, and I was happy to pass along the professional connection. This actually gave me the opportunity to talk to Mr Jones again, which I had not done in a while, and find out how things were going with him.  Tim got his referral, Mr Jones got a lead on a good candidate, and I strengthened one of my professional connections.

2.  The second request came from George, someone I’ve run into at a couple of local meetings. I had added a new connection to my LinkedIn account, and George noticed the new name in one of the automatic updates that LinkedIn sends out. He noticed that that NewPerson’s background was similar to his own, and asked me to forward a message to NewPerson, who was currently between jobs.

The note George wanted me to forward read as follows:

NewPerson,  I am looking to network with business development and sales professionals in the St. Louis area related to pharma R&D and device industries. Would like to try and meet sometime and see how we could help each other advance our careers,  George”

While George had recently gone through a painful job transition, I know he’s now happy with his new position. I suspect he’s setting himself up for the future, building his professional network and helping others now that he can. Since I am a huge proponent of networking and getting to know as many people as possible, I was happy to help George and NewPerson connect and talk about their common professional interests. Hopefully something good will come of it, and I will get the credit.

3.  The third and final request came from another colleague, one I had met briefly several years ago, but have not heard from since since. He is a consultant, and recently re-surfaced looking for more work. After a brief email conversation about an upcoming meeting that I was organizing, he sent me the following message on LinkedIn:

“May I introduce myself to any of your 232 LinkedIn contacts about my services?  If so, whom?  Let me know at your convenience.”

Not only did he want me to put my reputation on the line by recommending him to my contacts, but he wants me to do the work of figuring out which people might be interested in his particular expertise!  Needless to say, I declined this one.

While making new contacts and professional relationships is an admirable goal, you need to make sure not to abuse your existing relationships in the process. When you ask someone for a favor or introduction, make sure to make it as easy as possible for them to comply. And most of all, be on the lookout for ways you can help others out. The more you are able to help others out, the more willing they will be to help you, when you do need to ask for an introduction.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2007).

2 Responses to Introduction Etiquette

  1. […] Another one of my articles was just posted on the ACS Careers Blog.  This one talks about how to use social media tools to make new professional connections. […]

  2. Jim Demers says:

    You raise an interesting issue here, one that I’ve been struggling with myself as I try to build a business. LinkedIn is all about networking and career building, but at some point, aggressive use of the system shades into solicitation and advertising. I’ve not had any requests for introductions that were as blatant as the one you describe, but I have noticed a lot of marginal “topics” for discussion posted in the professional groups to which I belong. (Your #3 is likely to be guilty of this as well.)

    What’s interesting is that this “social network spam” invariably elicits zero responses — people seem to have an instinct about what’s legitimate and what’s not. There might be a few clueless people out there, but I suspect that self-promoting characters like your #3 knowingly cross the line. With a savvy audience, this is self-defeating behavior, so there’s reason to hope it will fade away. Meanwhile, the rest of us should take your message to heart: the more you help others out, the more likely it is that your network will help you.

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