Career Networking Conundrum

Yesterday I was approached via email by a fellow Smith College alumna who found me through our alumnae directory. She’s a career consultant and asked me to spend a brief amount of time on the phone advising a client of hers. Edited to add: the client is not a Smith alum.

I’m grateful for the advice and support I’ve received from fellow alumnae when I’ve used the Smith network, and am always glad for the chance to do the same in return. I’ve even, on occasion, spoken as a favor to friends or family members of alumnae when asked.

However, something about this particular request isn’t sitting well with me. The alumna who asked is getting paid by her client for access to her time, talent and connections. And yet she’s asking me to provide my own for free. While I applaud her candor – she could have just said she was asking for a friend – why is it okay with her that she’s receiving a fee for something she’s asking me to do gratis?

What do you think? Am I being too sensitive? Does it really make a difference whether the person doing the asking is just trying to help someone out, or that she’s getting paid to do so? How would you respond? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. If it helping them helps you, then it’s probably worth doing. That sounds selfish, but let me explain. Networks are a form of insurance – you don’t expect anything back in return, but it’s nice to know it’s there if you need it. But his one’s fraught with context.

    If helping the client helps the alumna, then go ahead. If it helps the client only, then maybe not. If you’re helping the client by providing a service in something you’d normally charge for AND it doesn’t help the alumna, then forget it.

    Also, why is the alumna so busy that she can’t garner the information she needs from you, send you a bottle of wine and then pass this on to her client? That way, everyone’s happy, AND you have wine.

    1. Thanks, Becky. Apparently the same alumna (who’s NY-based) hit up a number of LA film/tv Smithies. The ones from whom I’ve heard all feel equally squidgy about it.

  2. Maybe the question is if this career consultant is someone you’d want owing you a favor in return and would honor that debt.

  3. She’s outsourcing her job to you and you are not getting compensated for it. I agree with Julie, politely decline or run the risk of setting a precedent for this person to ask you this again and reap the benefits of your knowledge. Question is, if she offers to pay you – would that make a difference?

  4. Is the client a Smith College alumnae also? That is my first thought, if she isn’t then I would decline the request. I feel this would be taking advantage of a connection. It is one thing to help another alumnus but another to help a client of a alumnae.

    1. Hi Julie, and thanks for the reply. No, the client is not a Smith alum. I’ve helped non-alums before when asked by an alumna, but the person being helped wasn’t their client.

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