Because everyone should dig their job

How to maximize the effectiveness of your informational interviews

By Joan Lloyd

Over the past couple of years, I have stepped up my networking efforts and have been meeting with various people, some who I know well, others who are referred to me and some cold calls, to explore new career opportunities.

Most of the people I have contacted are more than willing to meet with me, even if they are not personally acquainted with me. My meetings always seem to go well. Or, so I thought.

During my meetings, many of the individuals go on and on about their accomplishments and extensive network and then promise, unsolicited, to make all these connections (within their extensive network) on my behalf, and/or to follow up with me about opportunities within their organizations. However, they do not and have not followed up on their unsolicited offers to further assist me beyond the initial meeting. When I follow up with them to gently remind them about their promise, they feign busyness or forgetfulness. Yet, they still do not follow through.

Joan, I find this type of behavior becoming more prevalent among professionals. Frankly, I also find it to be very rude. And, yes, I always send a thank you letter after my meeting. Please let people know it is okay to say NO when someone requests an informational meeting with them. Saying no is classier than meeting with someone, making a lot of empty promises and then not following through.

One other question: is it appropriate for me to contact these individuals to ask if I did something wrong during our initial meeting that caused them not to follow through? My reason for asking is only to gain insightful information so that I do not continue to make the same mistakes as I network.

The fact that you are getting networking interviews with strangers through referrals is a very good sign, and one that tells me you are probably not causing this problem.

I can speak from personal experience when I tell you how easy it is to warm up to a new contact, who is bright and eager, and offer to provide introductions and information, only to get back to the office and feel the crush of my own to-do list. Those good intentions fall to the bottom of the list. In my own case, I tend to follow up immediately, to get it off my list while I'm still thinking about it, or put it on a stack I get to (guiltily) sometimes a month later.

It may not be fair to project what I experience on to others, but I suspect that may be what is happening. Flatter organizations, relentless electronic messages, constant meetings, ever-present customer demands are taking their toll in the courtesy and integrity departments. And, to your point, there really is no excuse. If you can't follow up, you shouldn't promise in the first place.

I have become much more direct about my ability to help someone these days. I limit my networking to a manageable number. In addition, I put the responsibility on the person who has the vested interest, rather than taking on an "assignment" myself.

For example, if I think it would be good for the new person to meet a colleague of mine, sometimes I tell them to call the colleague and mention my name, rather than me calling the colleague first, to make the introduction. Of course, I am cautious about whom I refer, so I don't burden my colleagues.

If there is an opportunity I know about, I will send the new person to someone else who is hiring for that opportunity, rather than playing middleman. In other words, while I'm offering help, I'm searching for ways I can stay out of the loop.

In your case, I wouldn't call them and ask if you did anything wrong that "caused them not to follow through." Although your intentions are good, it will still come off as subtle blame, since they will feel guilty. Instead, try this:

Call them and say, "I know how swamped you are and it's not fair for me to burden you with something else to do. Why don't I take that off your To Do list and make the connection myself? I can call Janelle at XYZ Company and I'll just mention the referral came from you. Is that all right? Then I'll get back to you and let you know how it went." It's likely the person will be relieved and grateful.

In the future, during the initial meeting, use the same technique. Make every attempt to walk away with all the action items. That way, you won't be let down and the next steps will be within your control. Your new contact will be thankful you did.