It’s amazing how many professionals in transition today don’t understand the basic etiquette of introductions and building relationships. Their philosophy is, “I need access to one of your contacts and since we just met, you should introduce that person to me.”

I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t work that way. Why not?

People are afraid that if they introduce you to their network, you might damage those important relationships. They don’t trust you with what you’re going to do or how you’re planning on using their connections.

Even if you’ve known someone for a while, they still might not want to introduce you to their closest contacts. So how do we get around this issue of trust?

First of all, you need to change your approach. Here is what a typical approach looks like (with a fictional friend we’ll name “Susan”):

“Susan, I’m thinking of applying to The Gates Foundation and noticed on LinkedIn that you’re connected to their Chief Administrative Officer. Can you please introduce me, so I get my resume in front of that person?”

It seems like a pretty simple request, right? No! This is a very big request. Susan can only lose in this transaction.

If she introduces you, she runs the risk that you’ll corner her contact and ask for the advertised position. Her contact will feel uncomfortable being put on the spot and will tell Susan not to send any more contacts her way. In fact, she might not take any more of Susan’s referrals.

I once introduced a client of mine to a large patent firm in Bellevue. My client came on a little strong with the executive recruiter and put her on the spot. Next thing I know, I get a call from the recruiter saying please don’t send me any more referrals.

Great! Though I was trying to be nice, by introducing someone I thought was decent and professional, I lost a connection I could have used for a long time.

So let’s change the script a little to what I’ve found works very well:

“Hi, Susan. The Gates Foundation is one the employers on my list, and I’m currently evaluating whether I want to work at that company. I noticed you know several people there, and I was wondering if you could connect me with someone who could help me understand their culture, what they look for and where they’re going?”

Now we’ve turned the awkward “I want to apply to this company” into a non-threatening request to learn more. This time, you’re looking to meet someone who can give you information, not a job. This request is much more comfortable, and your contact has little to lose.

Whether you get someone to help you or act as a gatekeeper all depends on your approach. Instead of asking for something that is risky from their point of view, make a request that is safe for them.

By the way, once your contact starts helping you, they want to make sure you succeed. Communicate your successes along the way so they can feel confident that their help is going to turn into something fruitful.

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