First, a caveat for those literalists out there.  Sure, a worse networking mistake would be to sell all of your friends’ names and contact info to a spam organization.  Or end every coffee appointment you hold with an enormous belch.  Or send everybody you know an e-mail telling them you think they smell and have bad taste in clothing.

But in terms of the regular day-to-day stuff people do wrong, there’s one “networking sin” that reigns supreme, in my opinion.  It’s the failure to follow up on a personal introduction.

What’s triggered this sudden rant is that I’ve had two separate contacts of mine this week reach back to me and ask why they never heard from certain individuals I’d asked them if they’d be kind enough to speak with, several weeks back.  In both cases, the job hunters I was assisting had bemoaned their lack of a personal network — and asked me if I knew somebody in a given industry who could help them get a foot in the door and provide useful advice.  And so, like most folks hopefully would, I poked around in my Rolodex and reached out to some appropriate people I know, asking them if they’d be willing to lend a hand.  And they agreed to do so almost immediately, bless their hearts!

And then…the ball…got totally dropped.  The clients requesting the introductions never followed up or took advantage of the referrals in question.

Why is this such a big deal?  It’s not just because the job seeker in question might have cost themselves a good opportunity or missed the chance to receive some useful feedback.  Even more importantly, when people fail to follow up on a referral, the following things take place:

  1. It damages the job hunter’s reputation, makes the referring party look bad, and pretty much guarantees no future introductions will be forthcoming (once bitten, twice shy…)
  2. It prevents the contact in question from being available to other potential people in need, who would have welcomed their help, since one obviously doesn’t want to bug the same person too frequently for favors (you don’t want to burn your same contact out, time and time again…)
  3. It disrespects and wastes the time of the networking contact who was willing to help and might make them less willing to help others going forward based on the experience (not what we want to happen in this day and age where the job market is already growing painfully impersonal…)

So again, when you ask for an introduction and fail to follow up on it, it’s a lose/lose/lose proposition for all involved.  Just don’t do it.  While you might initially think it’s “no big deal” if you ask for a favor and don’t quite get around to capitalizing on it, you’re really not seeing the bigger picture, and ultimately this kind of behavior is why some people just never seem to catch a break.  Or to have much success with the 60-70% of all hiring that is based on word-of-mouth and personal referrals.

Thankfully, these situations are still fairly rare and most people (on all sides of the equation) are absolute champs when it comes to giving, receiving, and following up on referrals.  But for those out there who aren’t highly familiar with the networking process, or might occasionally let distractions prevent them from fielding a referral in timely fashion, I thought a quick reminder about this issue might be useful.  Remember, when somebody sticks their neck out and reaches out to somebody on your behalf, it’s a privilege and a gift, not an entitlement… :)