Horrible Networking Experience -- Should I Keep Quiet?
July 10, 2014 10:14 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking to make a career shift to a new city and move to a slightly different area of my professional field. A while back, I met a great contact ("Bob") here in my current city who has a giant professional network both here and in the city where I'd like to relocate. He has been very helpful and recently put me into contact with one of his "best friends" ("Jane"), who he ensured me would have valuable insights into the job market in my target city. I arranged a brief phone call with Jane, and it went horribly. Jane was rude, condescending, and made it clear she was talking to me only as a favor to Bob. Now Bob excitedly wants a readout of the conversation, with details of how Jane was able to help me. Should I tell him the truth about our conversation or just be vague and said it went fine?

Bob has gone out of his way to help me in my proposed career move, putting me in contact with a number of people who have had a variety of helpful suggestions and have provided additional networking opportunities. He is one of those truly nice guys who wants to help -- and it doesn't hurt that he is very connected (he once held prominent public office in the city where I want to live).

When he suggested I reach out to Jane, he told me that she is one of his oldest and most trusted contacts -- and believed she would be a tremendous source of information on the job market in my field, who's hiring, strategies for making myself marketable from afar, etc. He connected us via an e-mail introduction and she agreed to my suggestion that we have a brief telephone chat.

When I called her at the time I had arranged with her assistant, I made it clear at the outset that I would only take a few minutes of her time, and that I was NOT looking for a job, just some professional advice. I was short and to the point, and I had a very brief set of specific questions, none of which were particularly onerous or involved the asking of any favors.

However, Jane was extremely rude to me from the outset. At the beginning of the call (which she did on speakerphone, clearly typing and whispering to other people as I was talking to her), she told me that she "normally doesn't do these kinds of calls, but I owe Bob a favor." After I told her a bit about my background and asked her for some specific suggestions, she said, "I don't know what you want from me, but I'm really busy. I'm really surprised Bob thought we'd have much to talk about. How much longer do you want to talk?" The conversation quickly went downhill from there and I ended it politely after a couple minutes, thanking her for her time.

Now Bob has sent me an e-mail asking to get lunch and a debrief of the conversation I had with Jane. In the e-mail he said, "I'd love to hear the advice she provided, since I can't think of anyone better positioned to help you." What should I tell Bob? On one hand, I don't want to be spreading nasty stories about how rude his friends are, especially after he went out of his way to make the connection. On the other hand, if he is steering other people in her direction, perhaps he ought to know that she's clearly not inclined to play the mentor to role to his friends.

What does the hive mind think?
posted by Creamroller to Human Relations (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
"I really appreciate that you went out of your way to make the connection, but..."

If you have a good relationship with Bob, and he's been helpful, I believe that he'd appreciate the feedback on Jane, if only so he doesn't push future mentees her direction.
posted by straw at 10:19 AM on July 10, 2014 [45 favorites]

"Oh, it wasn't terribly useful. She seemed awfully busy and didn't have much perspective to add. So about that other thing..."
posted by advicepig at 10:21 AM on July 10, 2014 [12 favorites]

I think there are a lot of factual things you could say without being nasty- that she said she only did the call as a favor to him, that she didn't have any advice for you, that she seemed "rushed" and didn't have a lot of time to talk. Oh well, I appreciate so much that you went out of your way to put us in touch, Bob! Smile, shrug, go back to your salad.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:21 AM on July 10, 2014 [13 favorites]

"We did not exactly hit it off" and try to not dish the dirt.
posted by Michele in California at 10:21 AM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Be honest. Thank him for his help but tell him how she treated you.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:22 AM on July 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

Bob needs to know this info.

As a contractor, I give at referrals frequently. It is very important to me to know how these referrals work out. I feel like my personal reputation is on the line when I give out a referral.

I would 100%, absolutely want to know the truth about the referral. I am not saying that you should throw Jane under the bus, but you are doing a disservice to Bob if you white-wash your experience.
posted by Flood at 10:23 AM on July 10, 2014 [36 favorites]

Whatever you say, avoid implying a personality conflict - this makes you look bad. Remember, Jane is Bob's friend and he owes greater loyalty to her than to you.
posted by Dragonness at 10:25 AM on July 10, 2014 [10 favorites]

Tell him. That way he at least knows not to send anyone to Jane ever again. I'm also puzzled that Jane thought that her terrible behavior with you could be considered the "favor" that she owed Bob.
posted by quince at 10:26 AM on July 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

I would be tempted to stay super vague about it unless she did something specifically beyond the pale inappropriate as opposed to being garden variety unhelpful.

People ask me for networking advice a lot, and often I tell them the hard truth, which is basically "it's super hard to break into this, and once you do you can expect a lot of very hard work." (Followed by lots of advice, of course.) I'm not sure if people find that rude, but I'm sure they don't gush about how helpful I was. Either way, it's not a "referral", it's an appeal for advice, and there's no magical "NOW YOU HAVE A JOB! AND YOU HAVE A JOB! AND YOU HAVE A JOB!" button for me to press. I have literally gotten networking emails as I was searching for work as a barista to tide myself over while I struggled to find any job in my field.
posted by Sara C. at 10:36 AM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I frequently connect people. I do not ask for detailed debriefings of how a meeting went. Generally speaking, I do like to hear back from people who have asked me for help, such as if they have landed a job or if they are still looking. I recognize that networking is intrinsically good, and I'm not really adding much value just by connecting people, so I have no real "right" to be kept in the loop.

So, with your friend, just try to focus on general points of the discussion "We met, we talked, and I came away with a better understanding of the employment scene here."

Then never talk to him again.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:50 AM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Networking, by the way, is a mysterious and magical thing, when viewed from the perspective of a job seeker (when viewed from the perspective of a social being - a human being - networking is a fun and enjoyable way to just meet new people). With job seekers, though, the connections you make by picking up the phone never immediately result in a "job" or a "sale". But somewhere down the line something clicks. I think it's because people prefer to do business with people they know, and by expanding your connections you become a known quantity, part of the herd.

So don't give up on networking!
posted by KokuRyu at 10:52 AM on July 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah, as others said, no big words. It's great that he made an effort, and you can go out of your way thanking him for that, but just tell him: "it seems like "Jane" thought we didn't match," or "I got the idea that I really called at the wrong moment (even if it was pre-arranged)."

It's well possible that "Jane" has always been polite to "Bob" because of who he is, of his position, or because of her position relative to Bob's being more on one level, and that he simply had no idea what happens when new people "want" something from Ruth instead.
I've been on the other side of this. One isn't responsible for if one's pod and proven contacts are rude to others, but it is actually good to know that there were problems for future reference. But nevertheless: try to downplay it so that Bob doesn't call her again to ask what happened. The less dust the better.
posted by Namlit at 10:56 AM on July 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I like "I think I called at a bad time, since I know you find her to be very knowledgeable and helpful." Which, for all you know, is true.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 10:58 AM on July 10, 2014 [12 favorites]

The core psychological twist to successful networking, btw. is to imagine oneself as the center of the network. If "Jane" doesn't need you, you sure don't need her, is the message you need to give to yourself. With a smile.
posted by Namlit at 10:58 AM on July 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

Thanks so much for helping me connect with people. Jane was obviously very busy and didn't have much to offer in the limited time she had available. Is there someone else you could suggest?.

Don't fib to someone trying to help you. If Bob thinks that Jane was able to satisfy your needs, then he's on to the next person who needs help. (I'm a WOO - just trust me on this.) Also, Bob needs to know that his network isn't working as well as it should.
posted by 26.2 at 11:01 AM on July 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry Jane was a jerk to you. I dutifully networked a few years ago when the economy was at its worst and came in contact with some real power-trippers. I also, however, connected with some generous, thoughtful folks and so urge you to keep trying!

Re: telling Bob -- I agree with the suggestions of being very positive but stressing that Jane was too busy and didn't have time to talk, while keeping personality out of it. "We talked for a few moments and I could tell she was very qualified in field X but too swamped to give much advice. Thanks so much for connecting us, even the brief conversation was helpful! Let me know if you can suggest anyone else to talk to."
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 11:06 AM on July 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Contrary to most of the advice above, I would do the opposite of bland and vague. IF Bob is close with Jane - and I do think this is a big IF considering he is asking you for a debrief - his goodwill towards her will fill in the blanks in ways that are not good for you. I would tell Bob something along the lines of:

"We didn't exactly hit it off. Jane said she was surprised that you thought we'd have much to talk about and she also said that she doesn't normally do these kinds of calls and only agreed to talk because she owes you a favor. I gave her a very brief summary of my background and asked a couple specific questions but she said she didn't really know what I wanted from her and asked me how much longer I wanted to talk. I am guessing I called at a bad time, since you know her to be tremendously helpful. She had me on speakerphone while typing and talking with people, so perhaps she was in the middle of a crisis. So yeah, unfortunately, this ONE lead did not work out. But I am SO very thankful that you've connected me with her!"

Then immediately segue into some micro-success that you've had:

"On a more positive note, I just had a great meeting with X! We talked about... "

If you deliver the speech with a smile and close with a positive, you will not lose any points with Bob. By the way, in my personal experience, people with "giant professional networks" call everyone their best friend. I wouldn't put too much weight on Bob's choice of words - for all you know, you are his best friend too.
posted by rada at 11:06 AM on July 10, 2014 [24 favorites]

I would go somewhere between what rada said and being overly vague.

I would leave out the fact that she only took the call as a favor to bob. I can't image a delivery for that line that actually sounds positive and not like you're being pissy.

I would say, "I an appointment with her, but unfortunately, there must have been some sort of crisis in her world because she was very distracted and cut the conversation short before I was able to ask her the questions I had prepared." If she managed to say anything positive or remotely useful in between being rude, I would focus on that and share it. But also express regret that she wasn't more available at the time you called with perhaps mild concern that everything is ok. This will show that you trust his assessment and continue thinking the best of Jane, which makes you look super gracious and confident in allowing people to have a bad day without you taking it personally. However, bob will pick up on the fact that this was a bad referral and file that information away accordingly.
posted by ohisee at 11:41 AM on July 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Bob has a right to know the truth about Jane. If you value your relationship with him, you owe him that honesty, if only to save future job seekers Bob might want to help from being sent to such an unhelpful person.

There's some unwritten rule I've heard repeatedly enough to remember it about delivering bad news: wrap it in positives. Positive comment. Bad news. Positive comment.

Example here:

"Bob, thanks so much for going out of your way to introduce me to Jane and helping us to set up a phone call. I really appreciate it. Unfortunately, Jane wasn't terribly helpful. She mentioned that she was only speaking to me as a favor to you, she seemed distracted through the entire call, and she acted unprofessionally, as if speaking with me was a great inconvenience for her. She actually didn't give me any advice. I know that you took great pains to help me and I want to say again how much I really appreciate that. I'm sorry it didn't work out like you had hoped."

This preserves your relationship with Bob and makes it clear that you're not blaming him for Jane's shortcomings. It also alerts Bob to the fact that his trust in Jane was misplaced.
posted by tckma at 11:55 AM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Tell Bob the absolute and unvarnished truth.

Because although Jane was rude to you, wasted your time, may have hurt your feelings and discouraged you, she is doing much deeper and more insidious harm to Bob, who values his network, and has obviously worked hard to create, maintain and extend it-- and Jane is poisoning it, poisoning it behind his back.

He needs to know that, and I believe will ultimately thank you for giving him that crucial information regardless of how initially painful it is to hear it.
posted by jamjam at 12:10 PM on July 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Dig deeper. Ask questions in order to see Jane through his eyes. Not all 'good contacts' are nice people; maybe Jane is a class A-1 bitch with MAJOR connections and no time for people at your level. She really owes you nothing of her time, and she really did it as a favor for Bob. (So they must have a really good relationship!)

Bob sounds nice, though maybe over-invested in either you or Jane. (I don't ask people out for lunch "so what did you think of her?" when it comes to business contacts, so it seems weird.) Regardless, you can answer:

"Well she seemed fairly hurried and terse. It seems like it was a big favor you pulled for me. I was hoping to get more questions answered than I did. How do you know her again? Is she always that pressed for time?"

Then listen. Maybe he adores Jane for no good reason; maybe he knows she's bitchy and was hoping you'd catch her on a good day; anyways now you know his judge of character and scale your relationship with him accordingly. Maybe Jane is CEO and really doesn't take calls from people who are just breaking into the business. Anyways I think that whatever you hear from Bob will be really insightful in any case.

Also if you encounter people like Jane again, you can always try to manage that and get them to warm up to you. Are you in consulting? You meet a lot of nasty 'no-time-for-you' people at higher levels of business and overcoming their resistance is an important skill. "show me why you're important" is their attitude and if you can impress them then maybe you'll get a foot in the door. Just a thought.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:27 PM on July 10, 2014 [11 favorites]

I still wonder why this guy wants detailed feedback, and what the dynamic is between the two. While Jane's behaviour is actually not all that unusual, Bob's is really over the line. He's using you for something. Be aware of that.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:35 PM on July 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

koku ryu - me too... I wonder why Bob would be so willing to help the OP when the OP is just a contact and not a longtime friend, and the 'so tell me what you thought of Jane' aspect adds to the oddness. Maybe it's a simple "you remind me of me so I want to help you" kind of a deal. Maybe he fancies himself Mr. Connections-Maker-Who-Knows-Important-People and needs OP to play the role of Ingenue. Who knows. I would be inclined to chill the relationship myself but I would sniff out some info first just to figure out what the deal is.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:58 PM on July 10, 2014

Nthing rada, KokuRyu, and Peeps.

Any time someone presents themselves as having a "huge network" and gives you his "best friend" who is then obviously peeved about it – well, my 15 years of experience as a consultant who built a network from nothing in a then-foreign country (it's now my home) smells a narcissistic personality. Professionally speaking. I'm not going into psychoanalysis here. I've seen this before, and here's how it has always, always played out:

- Bob knows everybody! He's worked everywhere!
Have you seen his resumé? I've seen the resumés of this type - they never work in the same place for more than 2 years. Because that's more or less how long it takes for their show to be recognized for what it is.

- Bob's best friend is awesome!
You've got in touch with her. She wasn't happy about it. Given how vociferous she was with you as soon as Bob was no longer directly in the picture, she knows his style, and has been burned by it. She can't say that to someone she doesn't know, but she can see you as a risk, since Bob presented you. Don't worry too much about it, in any case. She had no reason to be that rude; it's better for everyone (you included) that she's not in your network.

- Bob really wants to know how his best friend worked out!
Possibility 1: Because he knows she's on to him, and if it didn't work out, you're an expendable source of information on that.
Possibility 2: He's genuinely self-centered enough to think she said something nice about him, and you're an expendable source of information on that.

Tread carefully. You are an expendable source of information. In your shoes, I would quietly back away from Bob, and quietly find another networking contact. Do not badmouth Bob. Do NOT badmouth Jane – I know "Jane", I have been "Jane" (though not rude), and let's just say that even rude Janes have more stable, long-lasting careers than Bobs.

FWIW, I have a big, reliable network now, and would not present anyone as my "best friend". Here's why: someone who genuinely networks, knows that each relationship is a universe unto itself. Which means, a newcomer will create their own universes, with others. I do not want to meddle in others' relationships, especially not professional.

I have occasionally, when it would be realistically good for everyone, recommended my most trusted contacts to newcomers, say Claire as an example, from whom I sense potential. First I'd speak with the trusted person, call him George, alone: "I met Claire the other day, she seems bright and serious about her work. Is it okay if I send her your way for questions?" If OK, I'd then say to Claire, separately, "I spoke with George, a [position] I've known for 9 years. George has been honest and straightforward in all the time we've known each other. I trust he'll answer any questions you have with the same sincerity and expertise." Followup is organic, because everyone's different. Usually George and I cross paths, he may or may not mention Claire. Claire and I cross paths, she'll probably mention George, probably positively, which wouldn't surprise me in the least, and would increase my esteem for Claire. It has happened to me that newcomers think George is an asshole, in which case, well, I quietly retreat from the newcomer. I would never make feedback from someone I barely know, into a lunch debrief.

Relationships take time. People who rush are hiding something. This goes for professional and personal relationships.

Gently back away. Look into Bob's background. I'd better dollars to donuts he's never been in a company for more than 5 years, and that the average is 2.
posted by fraula at 1:17 AM on July 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

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