I'm introducing you, not endorsing you
I blogged about awkward LinkedIn invitations and it was my most shared blog post ever. Wonder if it has anything to do with the Kelly Blazek fiasco that happened around that same time? You know, the Cincinnati-based, self-professed mentor who wrote a scathing response to a LinkedIn request. Epic fail in the career karma department for Kelly. Ouch.

Seems like there are a lot of conversations happening around networking boundaries and expectations. I wanted to share another real-world example of a LinkedIn interaction gone awry that might come up for you (but hopefully not).

A connection (let's call her "A") reached out to me to ask me if I knew anyone at a local company who could answer a few questions for her about a job she's interested in. And because life is full of happy accidents, I was able to connect her to the person who had just left that job (she'll be"B".) Coincidentally, and who doesn't love wacky 1st degree connections, B's new job is with A's alma mater. Seriously, I can't make this stuff up. I introduced the two of them on LinkedIn so they could learn more about the other before connecting.

But a funny thing happened when A reached out to B. B was helpful, answered all of A's questions, and was very cordial. But when A asked B if she would introduce her to the hiring manager, B's response was something like, "I'm sorry, I can't do that. I don't know you."

What's your reaction?

Do you think "I wouldn't introduce someone I don't know either. I don't want my name/reputation attached to someone with whom I've only had a brief conversation." Or maybe you're thinking "That was so presumptuous of A. Clearly, she didn't have a relationship established to B to ask for this introduction." Well?

My take is that we're all in this together and that B made a mistake when she declined to make an introduction (and yes, I'm sure there could be more to the story, but I'm basing this on the details I have.)

She's confused making an introduction with giving an endorsement.

As you know, I'm a huge advocate of career karma when networking. No one navigates their career without support from others (if you think you've done it on your own, you're fooling yourself). And when we have any opportunity to share our contacts, we should. As a matter of fact, things would be so much easier if people automatically looked for ways to connect others - instead of thinking of our networks as banks - "saving" our connections until we need them (like a rainy day fund) and spending them sparingly. Oh gesh... sorry folks... soapbox moment for me.

Back to the introduction... What happened, I would guess, is that B is confused. She's confused making an introduction with giving an endorsement. Now before you tell me that an introduction is an informal endorsement, let me tell you that I did an informal poll of a few professionals about this very issue. I asked them if they felt that making an introduction implied that they were endorsing someone's experience, skills or abilities. All of them said the same thing - no.

The truth is, as professionals, we introduce mutual acquaintances all of the time - and many of them we've never worked with. We may know them through a professional association, we may have met them at an event, or we may know them through a friend. Introducing someone isn't the same as an endorsement.

Here's what you can do: Be transparent. Be authentic. And if someone doesn't get networking, don't blame yourself.

Let me give you an example of a more complicated introduction. The intent? Help someone raise her visibility and get some career karma flowing. I recently had the opportunity to make an introduction on behalf of one of my clients. When my client mentioned that she had applied for a job where I knew the Director of HR, I sent the HR Director (I've done some work for their organization) a quick note to let her know that my client had applied for a job.

I didn't copy my client on the message, because that seemed inappropriate (my judgment call). What did the note say? I aimed for total transparency. I told the Director that a client had applied for a position, and while I couldn't vouch for her skills (I've never worked with her) I relayed some very positive feedback I've received about her from others in my professional network. I was honest - acknowledging the small world and wishing her well with the hiring process. In her response, she gave me a brief update on the hiring process. So professional and thoughtful.

So as you navigate the crazy world of networking, please be reminded that not everyone you encounter will be a savvy networker. Some are naturals, but many more of us need experience - including some flops. I've seen new college grads rock at connecting, and I've met senior managers who are clueless. Here's what you can do: Be transparent. Be authentic. And if someone doesn't get networking, don't blame yourself. Move on and remember that the only control you have is over how you handle things on your end.