This is a true story: a personal friend of mine who works at a large digital advertising agency in Chicago agreed to do me a favor and speak with some University of Chicago undergraduates who might have questions about the industry, how to get into advertising, etc, etc. This friend is not an alumnus of the University, but he wanted to help out, and as we all know, the best way to get your foot in the door at an organization is to network and set up informational interviews. A few weeks later, I saw this friend and he told me that he had been in touch with a University of Chicago student, and had found his interactions with this student unsettling - in trying to set up a time to speak with the student and answer questions about his company and his work, this student was very inflexible and demanded that my friend be available during very small windows of time on specific days of the week. When my friend suggested another time and date, this student replied that it was almost finals week and that it would be impossible to set up another time to talk.
So what's wrong with this picture?
Hopefully most readers cringed (as I did when my friend told me this story) to hear that a University of Chicago student would be so inflexible when trying to build a professional relationship. If you didn't, here's why you should have:
1. When reaching out to an alum or another professional contact (someone you met at a career fair or information session, perhaps) remember that this person is doing you a favor. It's not the other way around, and you should be as polite and as accomodating as possible.
2. Yes, we know that you are busy - you have class, homework, studying, extracurriculars, a part-time job and you'd also like to have some time to work out, go out, or just chill out. However, when you're communicating with a professional in the working world, remember that the person you are talking to likely works 40 plus hours a week, commutes for at least an hour a day, if not longer, may have children or other family obligations, as well as other personal responsibilities outside of work. In other words, you should rearrange your schedule to make it easier on the person you are networking with. This does not mean skipping class or blowing off homework - but it does mean suggesting large chunks of time when you are available, and offering to call the person or come to his or her place of work to meet. You want to make it as easy as possible for the person who is helping you, to actually be able to help you.
For some more (harsh) advice, I'm borrowing some information from the Booth School of Business (I'm also borrowing their title for this blog post). Earlier this year, the Booth student newspaper ran an article called "Etiquette 101," written by a class of 2009 Booth student. And while some of this advice is tough to swallow, it reinforces the point we're trying to make - BE POLITE.
Here's some of what the Booth article had to say - the CAPS Blog thinks this is good advice for anyone on the job or internship hunt:
1. "Introductions: When you’re asking me for help, can you not be so demanding? It’s not like I owe it to you. I’m not your mother and the last time I checked, you were the one who needed help. While my positive karma points go up with every mock interview/case practice/tips/help session I give, I’m doing you a favor. Remember that and don’t send me an e-mail like “send me your availability.” Can I? Can I really? I think hell is available…"
2. "Punctuality: If you don’t call or show up when you’re supposed to, that’s not called 'fashionably late.' When it comes to appointments, you’re just late. Tardy. Truant. Obnoxious and disrespectful of people’s time. If I wanted to sit around and do nothing, that’s my prerogative. But it is not the highlight of my day to wait for you. There are so many ways to know the time in modern days: watch, cell phone, crackberry, computer—dude, you can even ASK someone. Just be on time. Otherwise, don’t blame the person you’re meeting for giving you an attitude."
3. "Apologies: Let’s say you’re late for a reason. You have a legitimate alibi. At least say you’re sorry. I realize that many of you may not have such a word in your vocabulary, but most children learn it before they ever step onto school grounds. Go relearn it. It’s five letters that will serve you well in life. And don’t apologize while not sounding apologetic. That’s just rude because then it’s clear to me and everyone else that you’re just making excuses for yourself..."
Again, hopefully this sounds like commonsense to you. But if it doesn't, or if you think you're guilty of being rude, inflexible or demanding when you're building your network, learn these lessons now - and don't do it again.
Questions, comments or networking horror stories? Post them here.