Do you feel like you're banging your head against a wall trying to get people to respond to your requests for job search help or informational interviews? Here's a list of reasons why people in your network may be reluctant to help you.
While you can't control all factors, you can influence the process and start to see better results.
1. You forgot to say thank you in the past. If someone helps you or offers to help, you say thank you, right? This seems obvious and yet people forget or neglect to express heartfelt thanks or even a quick note of gratitude. When you do not say thank you, chances are that person will be disinclined to help you in the future. And that may be the reason they are slow to get back to you in the present.
I recently let a recent graduate know, through our mutual connection, that he really should have acknowledged the pro bono revisions I made to his resume. After two weeks went by I wondered what had happened and why I bothered. He wrote back to me right away and I'm happy to help him in the future.
Strategy: Acknowledge thoughtful emails sent to you related to your job search. Write an enthusiastic note along the lines of, "Thanks so much. I'm always so grateful for your help and support." If you reflect and realize that you've forgotten to send a thank you in the past, it's never too late to start now. Sending a handwritten thank you note in the mail after an informational interview can also be a nice touch.
2. They have been burned in the past (by someone else) and are less willing to help you. Sometimes an unwillingness to help has nothing to do with you; a previous experience left them burned. Perhaps they made an introduction and the person was unprofessional or flaked out. This made them look bad. As a result, they've become more cautious about handing over their trusted network to just anyone.
Strategy: Demonstrate that you have the utmost respect for professional relationships by being enthusiastic, grateful and reliable in all of your communication. Follow up on emails promptly. Remember to circle back around and share the outcome of the introduction. I call this closing the networking loop.
3. They are afraid you are going to ask for a job. Since a friend of mine started working for Google, the number of emails he receives from acquaintances has increased exponentially. Many of these requests for help do not mention specific positions or areas of interest - they just want a job at Google, any job. He's now started to decline these requests since he's not able to help and is overwhelmed by the number of emails.
Strategy: In your communication, state that you will not be asking this person for a job referral, especially if it's at a highly competitive company. Let them offer that to you, if they choose. Instead, you can ask for an informational interview with assurances that it's for research purposes only. Remember that relationship-building is a longer term process and an initial conversation can be the start of building trust.
4. They are too busy. There's not much you can do when a person's schedule makes them so busy that they never respond to emails. Don't take this personally. You can move on and try more contacts after you've followed up 2 to 3 weeks later. It once took me a full year to get an informational interview. It turned out the person had been getting married at the time of my original ask so it was not great timing. When I re-forwarded my email a year later, still expressing enthusiasm for learning more about her work, we spoke soon after.
Strategy: Follow up after two weeks. If you still don't receive a response then let it go, for now. You can always let more time go by and try once more in a month or two. Use the "two-part email" - where you write the email for the person - to ensure a greater chance of response if you are asking for a networking introduction. Also, try ending your email with a question such as, "Might a brief conversation in the next few weeks work for you?" since people are more likely to respond to an email that closes with a question.
5. You are vague or unclear about what you are asking for. When people send around generic emails saying, "I'm looking for a job. Can you help me?" it's like you're asking them to do your job search for you. Most people won't bother to write back to emails that are vague or unclear. It will seem to you like they do not wish to help though it may simply be they do not know how.
Strategy: See "Need a Favor? Ask For It!" on how to construct a more clear and specific ask to your network so they do not have to connect all the dots for you. Your network's time is precious so don't waste it.