Q: I am self-employed. I run a small consulting business providing information technology expertise. I am doing well but I am building my business. I work seven days per week. I love the work. The problem? I get about five networking requests per week. Some are from people I donít even know. Some are from people I went to college with 25 years ago and have not kept in touch with. Some are from friends and family. Some are from recent college grads and I really donít have any good connections for them. More often than not, they are friends of friends of friends. I want to be helpful but this is turning into my new part-time job! I donít get paid for this and these people donít seem to understand that. This time should probably be used building my business. HELP! I have never seen this question in your column before.
A: Your letter hit home with me. I live that same personal challenge. I donít get paid for having coffees, lunches or a glass of wine with job seekers. I probably receive about 10 requests per week so I think I have you beat!
I struggle with maintaining a balance of being focused on my business while trying to be a helpful resource. Here are some guidelines that I have established for myself. I hope these help you maintain that balance.
- I limit my networking meetings (coffees, breakfasts, etc.) to two per week. Between the travel time and the time away from my business, I have found this limit to be manageable. When job seekers call me I tell them my available times, which are often three or more weeks in the future. If that doesnít work for them, then that is a choice the job seeker must make. I know it seems harsh, but I can not turn my world upside down and cancel existing appointments because a person that I met at a cookout 11 years ago has lost a job.
- If someone wants to meet me in person, I have to make it convenient for me. It has to be a reasonable location and a time and date that work for me.
- I am often more open to a phone call, which does not require travel time. Yet, still I have to limit these calls, both in terms of length of the call and the number of calls I can take per week.
- I have had many job seekers ask me to revise their resume and help them find a job. I do this type of work but I charge for it.
- Sometimes I have to say ďnoĒ to job seekers. It is difficult to do. But if I have met them, shared job seeking strategies, given them feedback on their resume, etc., I feel like I have been more than generous with my time.
Finally, I do believe in giving back. I do believe that sometimes additional business can come from these networking meetings. Even these meetings donít result in additional business opportunities; I think it is the right thing to do.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is Senior Vice President and Partner of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.