A Poorly Handled Interruption

This morning, I allowed my workout to be interrupted by a good friend with a quick question.

“I’d like to get a job with this company. I have a potential connection, but they live in a different department / office / state. I doubt they will be relevant to my role of interest since the company is so large. Also, the connection is through a friend, so I have no pre-existing relationship with this employee.”

My response: “I don’t really understand your question. You don’t currently have any offers, you want a job at this company, and here is a potential leg up, even if it’s a long shot. Why not spend a few seconds pinging your friend to ask for an intro? If you don’t think it’s worth your time, OK, but that’s not a decision I can help with…”

Harsh. I was extra confused at this point because in my mind, the effort we expended discussing this outreach project was greater than the cost of simply running the experiment, just going for it.

My friend backed off quickly. “Sorry, I didn’t realize you were working out, my apologies for interrupting you. Thanks.” We both left unsatisfied with the interaction.

I continued my workout, pondering what had happened. Instead of listening with empathy, I gave off signals of emotional unavailability. This caused my friend to apologize for the interruption. What a regretful mistake on my part!

In fact, I welcome the interruption. I appreciate this friend’s trust and respect for my opinion to be helpful to their situation!

I also know better than to close down the conversation with an unsatisfying answer that absolves me of responsibility. I could have tried understanding the question more deeply. I wrote a post last year describing exactly how to handle this process, and I’ve done peer support work in the past with Libby and Lean On Me, etc. The Hurricane Video we produced is worth sharing here:

If I had paused for a minute and repeated back this friend’s concerns, we might have come up with a decent rephrasing: “Hey, I’m going through this tough job search and would like some help. In general, how do you think about navigating connections within large companies? Do you think it’s worthwhile to pursue this particular connection or better to just apply directly? Why?”

I would consider four basic cases:

  1. The best case. The employee happens to be involved with hiring for the role of interest. They’re excited to speak with candidates, willing to put in a good word, or otherwise can directly assist. (Unlikely.)

  2. The good, unexpected case. The employee isn’t involved but happens to know of another role for which they can help. Maybe this other role isn’t yet posted on the careers page or is only open to internal hiring / special referrals. (Also unlikely, but a decent reason for reaching out since that’s the only way to uncover this possibility.)

  3. The average case. The employee isn’t involved and doesn’t have much to offer by way of job search, but is willing to speak anyway and provide insight on the company, general job application advice, etc. Maybe they are a decent mentor or future connection, there’s mutual interest in a tangential topic, or we can extend the connection chain with a friend of theirs in a more relevant position. (Having a casual chat that doesn’t go anywhere directly is the most likely possibility. Since I enjoy connecting with folks, I would personally be fine with this outcome. I’m also confident I can cut a conversation short after ten minutes if it’s not going anywhere. Other folks may feel differently; this connection may not have a high enough payoff to justify the chore of going after it.)

  4. The worst case. The interaction is neutral, leaning negative. It’s a clear waste of folks’ time and potentially damages relationships. (This is unlikely but good to be aware of. In my experience, folks won’t have a problem if they are the kind of people who are self-aware and considerate enough to think about how they may be burdening or imposing on others. If one has a clear goal and a clear ask, it’s OK to be direct and concise. Ask away, and let other people take responsibility for their time and effort to help or not. No hard feelings. The intention is good and the ask is relevant, considerate, direct, brief.)

With all this in mind, I would recommend yes. Reach out to this person, if it doesn’t cost you too much energy. Erring on the side of speaking up, expressing, and connecting seems positive to me.

This answer is much more useful and generous than the simple “yes of course, go for it, why not” which minimizes my friend’s original question. A small effort and mindset shift would have led me to create a much more emotionally safe, patient space in which we could have explored the constraints of the problem together.

I owe my friend an apology. I’m sorry this is a blog post instead of a shared experience. Next time, I’ll be more careful to state “I’m busy and we should talk later” or “I’d like to take a minute and better understand what you’re asking.”

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