How Soon Is Too Soon to Ask for a Favor from Your Network?

(U.S. Air Force photo)

You've likely heard about the benefits of networking -- endorsements, introductions, referrals and information -- and that you get to ask your network for help, guidance, insight and favors.

But when can you start asking for those benefits? Is there a time when it's too soon to solicit favors?

The short answer is "yes."

Your Network Wants to Help

When you and another person become networking contacts, you both determine what level of support you'll provide for the other. You might not express this verbally, but in your mind, you've decided how, where and when you'll help them. In some instances, you might wait to see how the relationship unfolds before you commit your resources to them, but the expectation is that there will be a mutual benefit.

Establish the Relationship First

Few things are more frustrating than accepting a LinkedIn connection request from someone who appears nice, who knows a few of the same people, and who then immediately fires off a message asking you to refer them to one of your key clients.

Successful networking establishes a relationship first, before there can be an ask. The relationship can start as a friendly exchange of information or pleasantries, recognizing that if you ask for a favor or benefit too soon, you can come across as pushy.

Consider how you naturally handle other relationships: When you start dating someone new, you understand there are certain questions you can ask on the first date, but others should wait until you know each other better. When you meet your daughter's kindergarten teacher, you want to make a good impression and learn about them before you dive into hard questions about their teaching philosophy. When you are introduced to your son's new girlfriend ("This is the one!"), it makes sense to learn about her, and let her learn about you and your family, before examining her life goals.

When you have established mutual rapport and respect, a relationship can grow naturally, and an appropriate opportunity will emerge for you to ask for a favor. There is no rule or standard of timing or quantity of contacts, but there is quality. Consider these two conversations:

Chris: Hi, my name is Chris. Nice to meet you.

John: Hi, Chris. I'm John. What brings you to this networking event?

Chris: I've recently left the Air Force and am looking for work as an aviation specialist. Your name tag says you work for Jeppesen here in Colorado. Are they hiring now? Do you know the right person to speak to? Would you put in a good word for me? I'll send you my resume -- what's your email? Thanks, man!

John walks away.

Versus this scenario:

Chris: Hi, my name is Chris. Nice to meet you.

John: Hi, Chris. I'm John. What brings you to this networking event?

Chris: I've recently left the Air Force and am pursuing a career in commercial aviation. I'm excited to meet so many industry professionals in one room. How about you, John? What brings you here?

John: Same. I like meeting other aviation specialists. My whole career has been with large commercial carriers. The requirements and standards have really grown in our field! What type of "career in aviation" are you seeking?

Chris: Agree with you on the standards. We navigated that a lot in the military. I'm looking to work in aircraft maintenance, and I'm excited about all the new international carriers coming into the region.

John: True! Many new carriers in this area. Do you have good connections? Maybe I could help?

Networking is a kind of dance: You make small talk, find areas of common interest and let the ask flow naturally. Resist the temptation to come across too strong ... yet be sure to let your needs be known. This ensures your network will want to help you and provide you with information, insights and plenty of favors.

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