You’re in the middle of a job hunt, you’ve found the perfect position at a wonderful company, and you want to make sure you stand out above the other candidates. You do some research, and, as it turns out, you’ve got a connection to the hiring manager—through a family member!
What could be better than that, right? Well, not quite so fast. Yes, having a personal connection is a great way to get your foot in the door, but before you ask Aunt Mary to make an introduction, consider these tips for mixing business and family.
Don’t Take Advantage
First off—family or not—it’s important to remember that asking someone for a favor in your job search is also asking her to give her time and energy and to put her professional reputation on the line. So, before you make any kind of request, understand what you’re asking for, including the consequences to your family member’s reputation and productivity. It may have taken her years of working her way up to have the President of your dream company on speed dial, so calling her up on your behalf may be a much bigger request than you might realize.
Whether you’re asking for an interview or just the name of a hiring manager, be gracious and treat your family member not as someone who should hook you up because you’re related, but as someone who’s going out of her way to help you.
Many family members may be willing to help you out, but they may not know what you need. So, when you approach a family member for help, treat him or her just like any other business contact and make specific, reasonable requests. (Read: not “can you get me a job at Dell?”)
For example, are you looking for a fresh pair of eyes to edit your resume, a LinkedIn introduction to the HR manager at your dream company, or a reference for a new position? Each of these requests requires a different action. And, it doesn’t stop at specific job opportunities! You could ask to be set up an with an informational interview with someone in your aspirational industry, join someone at a tradeshow or networking event, or propose a job-shadow day to learn more about what it takes to succeed in a certain position. Make sure you know what your end goal is, and make a specific request accordingly.
Make Sure You’re Qualified
Also make sure you aren’t putting anyone in an awkward position by asking for introductions, recommendations, or job offers that you aren’t qualified for. If you’re asking your sister-in-law to get your resume to the top of the pile, you should have specific reasons that you’re a good fit for the job, outside of being related to someone who works there.
While a family member might be able to get you a foot in the door, if you’re not qualified to be in that office in the first place, it won’t reflect positively you—or on her. Angeline Evans, a freelance writer, shared her experience of snagging an internship she wasn’t quite qualified for through her father’s connection. “I was 19, and I didn’t have very many relevant courses under my belt. But, because of my dad’s connection, I don’t even remember being interviewed. The internship was brief and disappointing for all of us because our expectations were out of sync.”
Consider the Benefit for Them
Remember that networking is a two-way street. You may not have a fancy address book to pass along to your uncle when he helps you out, but consider other ways you might be able to return the favor. After all, traditional networking is about mutual gain, not mooching off someone in a more established stage of his or her career. Can you offer your expertise to prove that you deserve a recommendation? Maybe you know of a position that could benefit someone else in his or her network. There are many ways to add value to your family member’s career, even if you’re early in yours.
And, it should go without saying, but a thank-you card or gift is always, always required when someone helps you out—even for family.
It’s great to network with people with whom you have a strong existing relationship, but remember that this is just as much about business as it is about family. Don’t expect your cousin to put in a good word for you just because you’re related—at the end of the day, if she’s a contact in your network, it’s still a professional relationship.