How to manage an abundance of networking requests

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Q:  I am running a firm that I launched five years ago.  We have grown and are successful.  We are all “do-ers” and we all work on client-facing projects and deliverables.  I probably receive about five networking or what I call “favor” requests weekly.  Some of these examples might be: Can I introduce a friend of a friend to someone on LinkedIn?  Can I track down a former college friend to ask if they can interview at this person’s company?  However, if I later ask this person for a professional favor, the person is dismissive and says that they are too busy. I have met with sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, etc.  for informational interviews.  I don’t have a salary, so every hour away from my business, is an hour of billing time.  I end up working weekends to accommodate all of these requests, and I feel like often the “favor” it not returned.  How do you suggest that I manage this?

When I walk into a networking event
A:  I get it.  I am in the same boat.  If I received compensation for all of the informational interviews, all the connections I have made over the years, I would be wealthy.
How I view this dilemma is that some of your good will may come back in one form or another.   I also feel like one informational meeting can change someone’s life, as this person may land a new role because of the connections you are making.
However, and this is a big however, when either of us say yes to every request, these requests impact our earnings.  Literally!
I have established a few ground rules for myself:
1.       Limit the number of informational interviews per week.  My max is two per week.  You probably have had this occur.  Someone gets laid off on a Tuesday, and then calls or emails you in a very panicked way, and wants to meet you asap.  This person expects you to cancel your appointments, which may have been scheduled for weeks.  Almost 100% of the time, I will say that I am available on Friday at 9am or 10am.  I can’t drop every project on my desk immediately.
2.       I will always offer times toward the end of my week.  My schedule is often the busiest at the beginning of the week.  By Friday, my schedule lightens up a bit.
3.       I will sometimes offer a very early time in the day.  If the person refuses because they are “not an early person” (a direct quote), then I am not interested in re-configuring my schedule for them.
4.       Use Zoom, or another video call tool, to minimize the travel time.  If a person insists in an in-person meeting, I explain that this is not possible.  I explain that I use Zoom to minimize the impact to my business.
5.       If I meet the person, early on Friday, or face-to-face on a Saturday, maybe for coffee or breakfast, I am reluctant to pay the bill.  I feel like I am offering my time, and a cup of coffee is a reasonable offering.  The only exception to this rule, is when I meet with a relative or very close friend.
6.       I do expect a brief text or email thanking me.  If I don’t receive that, I am more reluctant to assist them further.
7.       I often speak at job-hunt events, sometimes at local libraries.  There is an opportunity there to discuss job hunting recommendations, though my job seekers view their search “as different.”
8.       I will refer the person to a local career coach, if the person is hunting for a new role.
I hope this is helpful to you.  I sometimes acquiesce but I am trying to be firmer about how I respond to these requests.

I hope this is helpful to you.  I sometimes acquiesce but I am trying to be firmer about how I respond to these requests.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.