Life at Work

Snagged by the Network

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 28, 2006

The nonprofit group where Sadie Dingfelder works was looking for a new Web designer a few months ago. And so when she met an unemployed friend of a friend at a party who told her he had just that background, she thought she could help.

"It sounded like he had a lot of experience," she said. She kindly told him to send her his résumé and she would assist him. As an editor, she figured she could look it over, give him some tips, and then forward the résumé to the hiring managers.

Dingfelder's offer is every job seeker's dream: an "in" that will help his résumé stand out beyond the hundreds of others that are e-mailed or sent to "To whom it may concern."

But despite last week's column about the right way to network, we all know that there is an ugly underbelly to networking, as Dingfelder soon discovered.

She quickly received a cover letter and résumé from the guy, written in rambling, stream-of-consciousness prose. Both were full of errors and red flags -- the kind that would cause any hiring manager to toss the résumé into the trash. But Dingfelder didn't give up. Yet. This guy had good experience, and she'd said she would help. So she went into editing mode and sent the letter back with all sorts of (somewhat snarky) comments. ("You might want to have a subject and a verb here" and "You probably don't want to mention interpersonal problems you've had with previous bosses in this cover letter.")

The applicant then sent the "corrected" cover letter to the hiring manager and to Dingfelder. With all the comments still attached.

"Now I'm afraid that I can't recommend other people," she said.

No doubt.

It is well established that if we have a decent relationship with someone within a company where we want a job, our résumé will likely go to the top of the pile.

And so we network. Or we think about networking. Or we think about how to network.

But all of that networking talk can lead to networking nightmares. Many people are overwhelmed by the number of requests they receive after a cocktail party to chat about their company. Others are afraid their reputation will plummet if they recommend someone who is just all wrong. And many others are flummoxed by the audacity of some people who come to them with demands -- all in the name of networking.

Over-networking is probably one of the biggest complaints among people on the receiving end of the conversation, particularly in this town, where the vendors along K Street NW could make a fortune selling business-card holders.

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