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You don’t know me. You need to help me.

A few weeks ago I received an invitation to connect on LinkedIn. It read:

What advice do you have for me as a teacher who is transitioning into technology? Please connect with me on LinkedIn. Touch a life and make a world of difference.
Thank you
[name withheld]”

I did not recognize the name. I belong to several job search and career groups on LinkedIn. The LinkedIn header indicated we were members of the same job search group. I honestly don’t participate in LinkedIn discussion groups like I “should.” I pop in occasionally answer a question and “disappear” until I spot something else I can and have time to answer. To the best of my recollection, I’ve never dropped into this particular group.

Photo by Seafarer via Flickr

So. Let’s take another look at that request from a complete stranger again. There was no “this is how we know each other” introduction. There wasn’t an “I follow you on Twitter” common ground moment. No mention was made of an article or blog post I’d written. None of that; only the “What do you have for me?” opening. If this were an in-person meeting, in essence, this person walked up, extended a hand and said, “Gimme, gimme, gimme.”

I shrugged my shoulders at the lack of “social” in this social media connection and overlooked the me-centric approach to job search and career management. I, sadly, see things like this every day. Rather than delete the inquiry with an eye roll, the business person and coach in me kicked in and I decided to respond. This could be a potential client. And even if this person didn’t end up using my services, I had a little time to offer some insight and help a stranger … in spite of a rather abrupt request.

I spent the next 45 minutes or so crafting a thoughtful response. I looked up and included the link to a blog post I had written about the topic to offer further insight. I put a lot of time into “stranger request” responses because they may be a client prospect and while I want to help; I also want to live indoors and eat regularly. In my eyes, I’m “interviewing” with a potential client every time I respond to one of these requests. I do not take the advice I give or the way I give it lightly.

I hit send on the email. A few hours later, the person responded:

“Love it. Looks like my storage unit of school teacher stuff. I joined _____ & _____’s career beta committee so I can computerize everything and reinvent my future. My future as a microsoft office trainer.
Thank you
[name withheld]”

(The “love it” refers to the picture of clutter in the blog post link I sent.)

The individual commented on the blog picture and went on to tell me about a free site they had joined to facilitate the career change they desired and stated their career goal with conviction. There was a thank you at the end. There was no mention of the information I’d provided – good, bad or indifferent.

Sure, they got the information they needed for right now, but at what cost. Call me an old curmudgeon, but to be quite blunt, after this exchange, I’ll be hard pressed to answer any more of their questions with much more than, “That’s a rather large question. I offer job search coaching at an hourly rate.” Multiply that response by the rest of this person’s network and they’ll see information and connection resources dry up quickly. “I need, I want, give me” message wear thin quickly.

In my heart, I know this person is excited about their career decision and is gathering every known resource to facilitate that change. They meant no harm. They have no clue as to how me-centric their message sounds. However, during this innocuous exchange, from my perspective, all I heard was “me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me.” (Wonder what a hiring authority will hear when they launch their search ….)

Opening the requests with a smidge of flattery or at least some information about why/how we’re connected or why they’re coming to me for help would have been a great ice breaker. And, at the end of it all, taking a moment to offer something back in return would have been nice too.

“Thank you for taking the time to respond. You’ve given me food for thought. Let me know if I can help with your future endeavors.”

I frequently tell resume clients to “step to the other side of the desk” and hear what they’re saying (read what they’re writing) from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know or care about them and doesn’t have intimate details regarding their career. Very often, taking an objective step back, they’re stunned by the tone and tenor of their communication, the assumptive stance they take and the incorrect way things can be perceived without important details.

Hopefully, in future connections, my LinkedIn correspondent will read and think about what they say and how they say it before they hit send. All take and no give does not build a network.

(Note, name and gender omitted to protect identity.)

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  1. Hi Dawn,

    I love this post. I had much the same experience except my person wasn’t so friendly or polite. I was chatised for not understanding true networking. It prompted me to write a blog post that I use every time I get a request from a total stranger with no supporting details on why I should link to them. Believe me, it saves a lot of time to share a link rather than write a considered reply. Feel free to use it yourself:

    • Dawn says:

      Sarah –

      Thank you so much for compliment and the input. I LOVED your post too — bookmarked it in fact. How familiarity is assumed and implied by social media connections fascinates me. It’s almost as if we connect on Twitter or LinkedIn we’re new BFFs. (C’mon. You clicked a button.)

      I have many virtual relationships with people I consider good and dear friends. But, as you said in your post, those relationships were cultivated over time and took energy to develop and nurture. (It started with a click — started. There’s much more work to do.)

      Excellent, excellent information. Contribute anytime.

  2. Stephan Hilson says:

    It is nice for you to give an advice to a complete stranger. I could relate to the situation since I am also teacher, who turned internet freelancer. But I don’t use Linkedin because of privacy and other reasons.

    Thanks for sharing your valuable insights and experience in Linkedin. Maybe I should also think that any inquiry could lead to future clients.

  3. Dawn says:

    Hi Stephan –

    Thanks for adding to the conversation. As I travel through life, I’ve learned, you never know when opportunity chooses to knock. You don’t want to be mercenary, but prepared is always is good.

    And I have to comment, with a smile on my face and ‘love’ in my heart: I’m always intrigued when I hear people don’t participate in social media because of privacy issues. My response: It’s your fingers on the keyboard. If you don’t want “it” out there; don’t type it.

    LinkedIn is a great tool for expanding your professional network. And I’m not talking about only potential clients. The groups are a great way to crowd source information. And the site is a wonderful way to re-establish or maintain contact with former coworkers and new connections.

    Dive in. I truly believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Not sure how? I recommend friend and colleagues Jason Alba’s “I’m on Linked in: Now what?” site, DVD and e-book.

    Thanks for stopping by Stephan!

  4. Carla Watkins Sanford says:

    Hi Dawn,

    I really admire you for giving advice to someone under the circumstances. Most of the time I feel that people want something for nothing. As an insurance agent, I do many quotes for people and some of them are just never satisfied. i HAVE to do these quotes because one of them could be a sale. I’ve dealt with a lot of ungrateful people but I keep moving on. I think you did a nice thing but you don’t get paid for free advice! BTW I sent you a private message earlier today. Also just wanted to say that I am totally impressed with your website and with you! We Millbrook girls did good!!

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