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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

May 19, 2020
Question

A lawyer I barely know asked me to recommend him for a legal position at my company – and I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable about it. What’s the proper etiquette for this type of situation?

answer
Julie Q. Brush

It is not appropriate for a lawyer (or any professional) to contact someone s/he barely knows in an organization and ask for an endorsement for a job. If the requesting professional hasn’t worked with his/her “contact” and/or has not built extensive relationship equity with this person, there is no solid or credible foundation to receive such an endorsement. This type of request also places the person receiving the request in a very awkward position. It’s a situation you never want to create for someone you value in your network. Ever.

Strong professional networks are invaluable and essential in today’s uber connected world. In this competitive landscape, people are using every means possible to get a foot in the door and gain a competitive advantage. The stakes are high – so contacting “people you know” in an organization when applying for a new position is common. In fact, this type of networking is at a fever pitch. And more candidates are exercising poorer judgment in these situations.

So what is the proper etiquette?

While doing everything you can to gain a competitive advantage is enticing, poor judgment can compromise your reputation and relationships with those in your network. So my recommendation is to be thoughtful and use common sense before tapping a contact for help.

Some dos and don’ts:

1. If no relationship, but contact of a contact in your network:

    • Not appropriate to contact for any request. Period.

2. If you have a weak relationship with individuals in your network:

Not Appropriate…

    • To ask them to endorse you for a position in their firm or company
    • To ask for special favors or to forward your resume to “the right person”
    • To continue to email or call them if they have not responded to your initial overtures

Appropriate…

    • To inform them of the open position in their company and inquire if they know who the best person might be for you to submit your materials
    • To let them know them you have applied for a position at their company and inquire as to whether they would feel comfortable letting HR or the hiring manager know that they know you.

3. If you have a moderately associated relationship:

Not Appropriate…

    • To ask for an endorsement
    • To ask for special favors
    • To ask them to introduce you to other high level company executives
    • To continue to email or call them if they have not responded to your initial overtures

Appropriate…

    • To ask whether they would feel comfortable forwarding your resume to the right person managing the search
    • If you receive an interview, to ask if your contact would be willing to provide some quick insights on the company culture or other thoughts about the company

If your contact says yes to any of the appropriate requests, be gracious, appreciative and say thank you. More importantly, do something now or in the near future to reciprocate the favor in some way (remember, it’s not all about “Me”).

If you find yourself on the receiving end of an inappropriate request from a person you don’t feel comfortable assisting, it is acceptable to decline. But, in order to avoid exacerbating an uncomfortable situation I recommend that you provide a gracious response.

Example: “Jane, thank you for reaching out. I would be happy to alert HR that you have applied for the position. However, since we haven’t worked closely together I won’t be able to add any value in that area for you or my employer. Best of luck – I hope there is a positive result for you!”

It’s a cutthroat professional world out there and aggressive jockeying for the best position has become the norm. Great networks can facilitate the effort, but if used crassly they can do more harm than good. But by adhering to principles of common sense and etiquette, you will not only build your reputation and strengthen those networks; you will do Emily Post proud.

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Comments

Lass Evans, VP, Deputy General Counsel, Fortune 500 Company

Good article Julie. Situations like these are becoming more frequent and it isn't always easy to know how to deal with them tactfully. Responding honestly, but tactfully rather than blowing someone off is a much better way to go.

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