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How (And When) To Say “No” When Someone Asks For An Introduction

Whether you don’t think they are qualified or the timing just isn’t right, here’s when you should politely decline making an introduction and what to say when you do.

How (And When) To Say “No” When Someone Asks For An Introduction
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Personal connections and recommendations can make a huge difference in career advancement. But what if you’re reluctant to make a connection on behalf of someone? Depending on the circumstance–maybe you don’t think that person is qualified for the gig, or you’re eyeing the same opportunity–your ability to maintain a friendly and professional attitude is crucial.

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Here’s when you should politely decline making an introduction and what to say when you do:

Why You Should Be Strategic About Your Contacts

Understanding how to manage your contacts is a fine line to walk for many professionals. While lowering your degrees of separation can be impactful for your career and that of your friends, it can also make your immediate industry more competitive. And much like the old advice your mother gave you in high school, the company you keep speaks volumes about you from an interpersonal standpoint. According to workplace expert Amy Cooper Hakim, “If we introduce someone as a friend or colleague, then we are making a statement that we know and approve of this person, even if we don’t use such direct language when making the intro,” she explains. If not for only this reason, Hakim says erring on the side of caution will protect your reputation. “We should use care and only introduce those people whom we respect and trust to maintain the positive relationship we have with the person with whom we are making the introduction,” she adds.

Make Sure You Know Every Person You Introduce

Hakim says one of the greatest mistakes many make is “taking the word” of a personal connection to vouch for a stranger for a professional opportunity. In other words: if you can’t list and trust the strengths of a friend-of-a-friend, you shouldn’t be introducing them to someone you esteem.

If your pal is asking for a favor, suggest setting up coffee date for the three of you so you can better understand their personality and comb through their resume. “If that person is interested in getting to know you better, so that you may feel comfortable making the introduction, then perhaps consider that option. Otherwise, let the person know that she should look elsewhere to make the connection,” Hakim says.

Be Mindful Of Timing

Hakim says timing is everything when it comes to career connections. For example it can be a difficult juxtaposition when your old colleague wants a recommendation for a job opening that you are connected to, but you don’t think they are ready for it.

Perhaps the hiring manager is going through a stressful quarter and not focused on sifting through applications or you know your past coworker needs another year of management experience before the employer will bat an eye in their direction. Whatever the cause, ask for some space, Hakim suggests. “If you can speak to the strengths of this individual, but do not feel comfortable making the introduction at this moment, due to timing-related issues, then say so. Ask the person to reach out to you in a month–or whenever it is a better time–so that you may revisit the possibility of making an introduction,” she says.

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Be Honest And Brief

Perhaps the most delicate of all scenarios is when you simply don’t feel comfortable introducing someone because you don’t stand by their abilities to perform. It’s a less-than-desirable position to be in, since communicating your reasoning could be potentially hurtful, or cause a rift in your friendship or your professional relationship. Hakim says in this case, step one is declining the ask in as few words as possible, explaining you’re not the best person for the introduction. If they push for a reason, be honest that you wouldn’t positively recommend them for the opportunity and they should seek another source instead. While this might come as a shock and possibly induce anger or frustration, it’s better to save face for your name–and your own future influence–than to stick your neck out for someone you wouldn’t hire yourself.

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