The Problem With Phony Networking

There’s nothing unkind about refusing to get sucked into wasting your time on a phony networking contact.

The Problem With Phony Networking

Question: I know from your columns that you recommend cultivating personal contacts to go after jobs. I’m an executive at a company—let’s call it Media Corp. Someone sent me the email below. (I changed the names.)

Dear Joe: I noticed on LinkedIn we have some shared connections and both attended XYZ College. You have an interesting career with Media Corp. I’ve always admired the company’s outstanding solutions and superior products. I’m exploring new opportunities and would be grateful for a few minutes of your time. To tell you something about myself, within the last 20 years, I forged a career as a multi-faceted marketing and communications professional whose highlights include: (four bullet points you’d find on a resume).

Since I consider you a knowledgeable person in the field, I would be grateful to learn how Media Corp. is organized along with your suggestions regarding possible career options for me to explore. I will call you soon to see if you may have 15 to 20 minutes available for us to meet.


Then he called me twice and left messages on my phone. He keeps talking about our alumni connection, as if we both belonged to some exclusive club. I’ve never heard of the guy. I don’t know how to respond to stuff like this—nor do I even want to. What’s the best way to handle this that’s not unkind but also not a time suck?

Nick Corcodilos: Man, you’ve set me off on a rant. Readers might be accustomed to my disparagement of employers’ silly recruiting behaviors. But this is an example of a job seeker who’s redefining embarrassing.

File this under Stupid Resume Tricks—because all the guy really did is send you his resume.

I get emails like these all the time, but this is not my idea of pursuing a job via personal contacts. Job seekers like this one have likely taken an outplacement program where they’re taught to “reach out” to “relevant” people. They send out emails like this, in which they spout their entire resumes without calling it that. They think they’re being clever. They think they’re being personal . All they’re being is phony.

It’s a meek kind of scam—trying to get you to read their resumes by pretending they are personal emails—and I don’t think these poor suckers even realize what they’re asking. They want you to figure out how to help them. They do nothing to cultivate a personal referral because they don’t talk to anyone who knows you.

If this job seeker really wants to get your attention, he should do some homework—and show how he can help you . Don’t just read your LinkedIn profile and tell you you’re “interesting.” Go research Media Corp. (It has “outstanding solutions and superior products?” Gimme a break!) Talk with people who know you and work with you. Learn what marketing and communications issues, challenges, and problems your team faces. Explain that in the email. Then pinpoint some area of the company’s marcom where he thinks he could actually make a contribution. That takes a lot of work.

Guys like this won’t do it. That’s why this is a kind of scam. They want you to play career coach and explain how your company is organized and give them a plan for getting a job there.

If this “personal contact” were really smart, his entire note would be about Media Corp., but it’s all about him. That’s what I think is bothering you—for good reason. Imagine if one of your employees came to you with a request like this. You’d probably boot the person out of your office. On the other hand, if the employee appeared in your doorway with a well-defined problem that the person needed your help with, you’d jump on it because you want the employee to do the job effectively—after the employee did all the advance work.

Imagine if this email instead were a comment about your company’s products and it included a few bullet-pointed insights and suggestions about how to improve them. Imagine the guy asked what you thought about that.

You might raise an eyebrow and respond to him and have a productive back and forth. Then if he asked your advice about working at Media Corp., you’d know something about him, and talking to him might be worth your while and his. Doing this right takes a lot of time, which he won’t invest because someone told him to fake it by recasting his resume as a personal email so that you would read it—rather than merely forwarding it to your personnel office. (If the supplicant had used a real personal referral, he might have used some of the ideas in “How To Help A Friend Get A Job” and in “Four Steps To Your Next Job.”)

Look at that email again. Strip out a few sentences, and it is really nothing but a resume masquerading as a personal communication. What do you do with unsolicited resumes?

Bottom line: This guy has sent this note to dozens of people with some minor customization. Do we have time to field these?

I deal with such phony networking attempts by deleting them. Because such emails don’t demonstrate any effort to understand my business or my needs, I won’t make any effort to help. I’d rather use that time to help someone who demonstrates real effort to help my business. After all, that’s the objective of hiring, right?

There’s nothing unkind about refusing to get sucked into wasting your time on a phony networking contact.

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