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I Built a Network, Now How Do I Use It?

Dear Evil HR Lady,
I'm looking to make a career move and am thinking about contacting the HR representative from an internship position I once held. She now works for another company, and it's a place I'd like to work. What is the etiquette for contacting her? When I began the internship, we quickly found out that we had lived in the same dorm in college, and we're now "Facebook friends." But the fact is, we haven't spoken since my internship ended.

What is the appropriate way to contact someone that previously hired you?
Ahh, so many of us have built virtual networks without giving it a moment's thought. Some of our networks are explicitly business related, such as LinkedIn. I don't think anyone is under the illusion that LinkedIn is the place to post pictures of your new puppy and talk about potty training.

Facebook, however, is another story. The relationships there can be a bit more blurry. While I try to refrain from posting anything about potty training there as well (because, apparently, I've taken to posting about it at BNET), it is not a business related site. But, I am Facebook friends with one former boss and numerous former direct reports and coworkers. Why? Because we stopped having purely business relationships a long time ago and became friends. Most people don't want to be Facebook friends with their bosses and as a general rule, I don't recommend it. (Note that the Facebook relationships I mention are with former work colleagues.)

It sounds like you're Facebook friends with someone who should have stayed on your LinkedIn page. But, no problem. (Unless you've posted spectacularly stupid things about yourself on Facebook, but I'll assume that you're a responsible sort of a person.) You've done the right thing in maintaining some sort of relationship with a former coworker. Now, let's figure out how to make the best of it.

  • Don't expect favors. In my experience, most people are happy to help someone out. Unless you were a nightmare employee, it's likely that she will want to help you out, but leave the sense of entitlement at home. Ask, but don't expect.
  • Don't get upset if she can't help. "Gee, I'd love to help you out, but I can't." If she says that, thank her anyway and move on. It's probably true. This doesn't mean you're a bad person; it just means she can't help.
  • Don't pretend to be old friends. Don't bother trying to reestablish the "friendship" when what you are interested in is a job. it will sound fake at this point. "Gee, Jen, I was hoping to catch up with you. It's been a while. How are the kids? And the dog? Is your crazy brother-in-law still doing get-rich-quick schemes? Anyway, I want a job at your company." Yeah, it sounds bad because it is bad.
  • Be direct and nice. Try sending an e-mail (For Heaven's sake, don't post it on her Facebook wall.) that is nice and direct -- much like a cover letter. For example:
Dear Jen,

I understand that you are working at Big Company. I am really interested in working for Big Company in their marketing department. Can you give me any insight into available positions or company culture, or perhaps direct me to a manager in that department? Since we last spoke I've been putting the skills I learned at [company where you met] to good use by developing marketing campaigns for the Catnip Growers Association. I'm ready to move on, and Big Company seems like the best place to use my skills.

Thanks so much for your time. I hope all is well with you.



  • Don't abuse your relationship. You wouldn't call the regular HR person 5 times a day with "Just one more question," so don't harass your former colleague like that either.
  • Take whatever help is given. If she responds with, "The department manager is Jane Doe and her e-mail is" then please e-mail Jane Doe and state that Jen in HR gave you the contact information. Thank Jen for her help and move forward with what you've got.
  • Be willing to return the favor. You may find out that your e-mail produces a response of "Angela, it's so good to hear from you. My brother-in-law has been growing catnip for a while now and wanted to figure out how to better market the product. Can I give him your e-mail address?" The proper answer here is, "Absolutely!" And then make sure you help him out.
  • Make efforts to maintain the relationship in the future. It never hurts to take people to lunch. Especially when you do not need their help right now. The problems come when you only contact people when you need help. You don't like it when people treat you like that. You need help now, but you will also need help in the future.
Photo by luc legay, Flickr cc 2.0
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