Getting An Actual Date and Time Down is Crucial When Networking

I graduated from grad school in December in a slightly obscure field. I’m currently working two jobs, neither of which are connected to that field. My second job is as a waitress at a busy local restaurant, where I found out that one of my regular customers is involved in the field I’m dying to work in. When his career and my work interests came up in passing, I blurted out “I’d love to talk about that sometime with you,” and he (seemingly genuinely) responded that he’d be happy to.

However, he’s never broached the subject again, and I feel like I’m imposing and haven’t brought it up. Further complicating the situation is that I’m in this service position, asking a favor of him, in an incredibly busy restaurant (where there is not a huge amount of time for chit-chat and segueing into different subjects). He is also usually dining with his lovely wife and child, and I think it’d be uncomfortable for me to be like, “Hey, here are my digits,” and just totally encroach on their brunch (we’re all agreed that brunch is the mostly sacred of times, right?). I know the onus is entirely upon me to pursue an informational interview with this man; it’s just that figuring out how to politely pick his brain is proving a challenge. I tend to be reserved and to way over-think things; please help me figure out how to smoothly and tactfully request a career chat with this guy. — K.G.

Every now and then, I’ll get an email from a random person asking me if I can read something they wrote and offer feedback, and I’ll say, “Sure! Just give me some time.” And then a few weeks will go by and I’ll have forgotten about it. It will have completely slipped my mind. I’m not the sort of person who just agrees to do something to be nice, and then break my word. Priorities pile up, life happens, and things get lost in the mix. But then I’ll get a follow-up email from the person saying something along the lines of, “Sorry to bother you again, because I know you’re busy, but have you gotten a chance to look at the thing I sent you?” I will respond immediately: “I haven’t! I totally forgot about it, I’ll make sure to do it tonight and will get back to you.” And then I do just that.

Here’s the thing, people who say they’re happy to do something usually truly are happy to do it. They also get busy and forget to do something if it’s not in their schedule. If someone asked to meet with me, and then never followed up to set up an actual date and time to meet, well, we would probably not meet. Taking the initiative to ask someone you don’t know for their time is good, and can lead to great things. But following up on that ask, and getting down a date is absolutely crucial. If there’s no date set in stone, that “sometime with you” will get lost and forgotten in the vagueness of “sometime.” It’s like when you run into a friend you haven’t seen in a long time, and say, “Oh, hey! We should grab lunch one of these days and catch up!” And then you never see each other again because you didn’t actually set up a date to have lunch and catch up.

So go ahead and broach the subject again. It doesn’t have to be complicated—just ask. Don’t interrupt his brunch, but perhaps when the bill is paid for, and your customer friend is preparing to leave, say, “Thank you for coming, I hope you enjoyed your meal. If you’re still up for it, I’d love 15 minutes of your time to chat about how you got involved in [bobsledding/PTS reports/dermatology/etc.]. Can I get your email address and pencil in a time this week or next?” It is also okay to hand him your business card (or your restaurant’s business card with your email scribbled on it). If he seemed genuinely happy to help when you last approached him, I’m sure he’ll be happy to help this time around too.

I think this question would be a fun one to crowdsource. What would you do if you were in K.G.’s position?



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