How Not to Network

Sunday, January 10, 2016 / 6:09 PM

I'm no stranger to people getting close to me because they want something. This isn't a "I'm so successful in my career, everyone wants to be me" blog post, nor do I think that at all. But I get it -- if you have the ability to talk with someone who has a career path you're interested in pursuing, then you'd want to pick their brain, ask for opportunities, etc.

But the one thing that really pisses me off is when people try to take advantage of that.

Last year, as a favor to my parents' neighbor, I sat down in New York with this neighbor's son to talk about what it was like to intern/work at MSNBC/NBC. We met up, had coffee and a nice chat, and I asked if he was interested in interning in news. That's my field, after all, and even though I had no clout over the intern hiring process at MSNBC (which is where I was working at the time), I was happy to pass along a resume or be used as an internal reference. The young man seemed smart and determined.

He said he wasn't interested in news and wanted to do more of the entertainment side of things. I told him I had no connections, and the company is quite large so I can't simply hook him up with an internship anywhere inside the building. I recommended he try to get his foot in the door with news and pick up new skills, and then network while inside. He said he wasn't entirely interested, but he'd apply to some internships and list me as an internal reference, in case they were looking for one.

Months passed, and he wasn't having success. Around the summer time, as I was in conversation to transfer to my current job inside the company, he reached out and asked if he could list me as a reference for internships he was applying to -- non-NBC ones. I told him, "No," because I didn't know his work. I had offered before at NBC to help get his foot in the door and as a favor to his family, who lived across the street from my family. My parents had nothing but good things to say about this family, and they'd been quite kind to one another.

So fast forward a couple of months, in the autumn, and I'm on the phone with my mom, and she asked me about how this young man was doing. I said I didn't know but told her a little bit about our interactions, and then my mom told me that apparently the young man's mother had confronted my parents outside their house and demanded to know why I didn't offer her son an internship. My parents explained that I was not in the position to hire interns anywhere inside NBC, and I had met with him and given him advice, but there was no obligation to secure him an internship. But the mother accused me of being unhelpful, to which my parents again reiterated that it wasn't my responsibility to ensure her son had a place inside the company.

I guess after that, their family stopped talking/acknowledging my parents. My dad, for awhile, would try to wave when he saw them outside, but they shut my parents out. And normally my parents would fight fire with fire, but we as a family have had a tough year and my mom was spending three to four weeks at a time in Los Angeles for family reasons, and at the end of the day, fighting with neighbors is not something my parents have the time or emotional energy for. So they let it go, and those neighbors have moved (I think some members of that family still live in that house), but it still makes me really mad to know that that's what happened on their end because my parents are right: I wasn't obligated to do anything in this situation.

Anyways. If you're going to reach out and ask someone for advice or help, know that they don't owe you anything. I've had plenty of doors closed in my face, and just took a deep breath and moved onto the next hurdle and the next attempt to make a connection. The energy you spend waiting for someone to give you an internship or a job or a chance at whatever is energy you could be spending working hard and kicking ass instead.

Also, don't blame someone else for your circumstances.

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