Most any experienced job seeker (and careerist) understands that networking is a critical component in any successful job search. A quality network of contacts can point you to otherwise hidden opportunities, introduce you to influential decision-makers, and give strong recommendations to boost your perceived value as a candidate. This is old news. But how strongly should you pursue a potential contact before your behavior becomes pushy and risks turning the contact away?
A good deal of this question can be answered by considering the context in which you meet your new contact. For instance, if you meet an interesting person at a networking event you can probably assume that he or she is expecting to hear from you again. And while you should still practice flawless business etiquette in your communications, there is a mutual expectation of beneficial network building.
The iffy area is entered when you meet someone outside of traditional networking settings. If you have discussed your job search with a helpful individual it is certainly acceptable to approach that contact again about your conversation, but timing is the key. Just like in dating, you don’t want to wait so long that your contact forgets or loses interest in you, but you also should not force yourself back upon the person ten minutes after you parted ways. A next day email or Facebook message is okay but going overboard can risk making that person feel like a mere resource you are looking to exploit.
Making an initial contact can be exciting and your first inclination may be to reach out at any opportunity, but once you’ve made first contact, don’t push too hard. If you sent the person a message that goes unanswered for a few weeks then you can try again with another polite message checking up on your previous email. Keep things friendly so that your contact doesn’t get the impression that you are only out for personal gain. Networking is about relationship building, not strip mining a needed resource.
When you’ve met a new contact, exchanged information, and committed to keeping in touch, following up with that person is the expected and polite thing to do. Issues arise only when you are too pushy for immediate assistance and feedback your contact may be unable or unwilling to provide. Desperation is never an excuse to use other people as a means to an end and becoming an annoyance to someone who is trying to help you is both rude and potentially damaging to your professional and personal reputations. One of the primary skills to develop during your job searching or career is the art of learning when to push your contacts for help and when to pull back.