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I am a graphic designer who was recently laid off last month, along with all my other coworkers and bosses at a small regional newspaper. The publisher just decided to close it, but it came as a shock to almost all of us. I was one of their more recent employees, as I had only been there a little over three years.

One of my coworkers mentioned to me that her neighbor, who she periodically sees, works at a university where I am interested in working in their Marketing and Communications department. She gave me her name and email and asked the neighbor if it would be OK for me to contact her about her job and perhaps to give me some tips to get my foot in the door. My coworker messaged me back, saying that her neighbor would be happy to talk to me.

So, I emailed her last week. As I introduced myself, I referenced that it was my coworker who mentioned to me about her willingness to talk to me, and I also mentioned that we were all laid off. I have no way of knowing if the neighbor knew that, but I thought I should mention it by way of introducing myself that I had recently worked at this newspaper and now I and all of my coworkers and bosses are not.

I asked her two questions about her role at the university and what sorts of projects she and her department worked on, and I also mentioned that my coworker thought she might have some tips for me as to how to get my foot in the door.

I tried to make my email as neutral and as non-threatening as possible, but I have heard only radio silence since. I am guessing that with the corona virus restrictions we have, she may be very busy with her own altered work situation, or it could be something else.

Coming off inadvertently as a desperate job seeker was absolutely not my intention. I am wondering what next steps I should take. Should I mention to my coworker that she hasn't answered? I obviously don't want to be a pest, either to my coworker or to her neighbor. Or should I just forget it and concentrate on finding someone else at the university I can talk with?

  • add a country tag please. This really depends a lot on cultural background and norms – Hilmar Apr 20 at 13:17
  • Pennsylvania, United States. – Liz Apr 21 at 0:29
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I am wondering what next steps I should take.

Unless this person works in HR, then leave them alone. They don't know you, don't owe you a response, and probably aren't in a position to offer you assistance or guidance. This is the equivalent of emailing a friend of a friend who works at a company that may or may not have any open positions.

If you're interested in what positions may be open, reach out to the personnel office or HR department.

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    Most people do not quite understand, that due to the non-interactive nature of email and time management practices, that not getting an answer is pretty common. Not having an obligation to answer any email arriving to your mailbox is pretty much an important notion to convey. – Rui F Ribeiro Apr 20 at 16:31
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No answer is an answer. It means "sorry, there is nothing I can do for you at the moment".

At the moment many people are getting flooded with requests like this and in many cases the answer is unfortunately "sorry, nope". How that's typically done, depends a lot on culture & location. Some cultures, like Germany, are very direct and a straight "no" would be normal and appreciated. In other cultures like China a direct "no" would be perceived as incredibly rude and inappropriate. The US is somewhere in between, but ignoring instead replying would be fairly typical.

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  • Thanks, Hilmar. Actually, I have been on the other side of this situation myself. If I know I can't help a person, then I tell them in a gentle and polite way that I can't and try to give them a bit of encouragement. Job hunting is annoying enough without all the added stress of trying to search for useful information about places you'd like to work. – Liz Apr 20 at 20:30
  • And frankly, if someone asks me for advice of any kind and I say I will offer it, I do. If I would rather not, I will let the person know I can't. But I don't say to someone else that I'd be happy to talk and then not do it. There is something to be said for professional courtesy, even with people you don't know. – Liz Apr 20 at 22:22
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Correct me if I'm wrong and I'll delete this, but it doesn't sound like there's any reason to think your e-mail was received - or even that the e-mail address your friend gave you was correct.

You could ask your co-worker "Can I check that address for Jane?". This might lead your co-worker to check Jane's address with Jane, or even to ask whether she received your e-mail. If you find the address was wrong, or that Jane hadn't received your e-mail, that would give you an opportunity to re-send it.

It might be that your co-worker or Jane are not as interested in the two of you being in touch as you are, in which case you'll hear nothing further. But it seems too early to assume something like that without considering the possibility that we're looking at an e-mail problem rather than an issue with your approach.

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  • That might be true as well, but wouldn't I get a message back that it didn't go through? It's entirely possible my email ended up in her spam folder also. I will contact my coworker about the correctness of her neighbor's email, though. My coworker did emphasize that her neighbor would be happy to talk to me and that the neighbor was awaiting my email. So it may indeed be an email problem. – Liz Apr 22 at 0:32
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A lot of people are only doing this because they are pressured, so tell your co-worker so that the pressure leads to a response.

I’m a software developer, so the Covid economy is not (yet) begun slaughtering the jobs of people on my contact lists but I have a lot of friends who are in such jobs or are in HR and people generally gravitate to them for job search advice. They are being flooded with people asking for referrals or resume rewrites right now and are not happy with the large imposed social obligation.

One friend is handling it by saying that you can give their email to anyone as refusing is socially messy, but message them if you care enough that they get a reply. It’s a socially acceptable way to decline requests for help as if you ignore someone and encounter them later in life, you just missed their email.

It doesn’t help that people don’t like to give bad news and even the wealthier universities are implementing hiring freezes or are considering layoffs, so it could well be that this person can’t tell you about getting your foot in the door as the door has been locked.

Let your co-worker know. They will generally go ping the person they asked to help you and you will probably get a reply shortly.

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  • Thanks. Actually, it wouldn't bother me if the contact at the university tells me that there is a hiring freeze. If that is the case, I'd rather know and be done with it. I do feel bad, though, for all the still-employed people in this situation. I'm sure they are worried about the security of their own jobs first. I already got one such reply of a hiring freeze from a former coworker at another company where there happened to be a job opening. I applied anyway on her urging, since eventually she said the hiring freeze will be lifted. – Liz Apr 19 at 23:39
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    @Liz Maybe the person has an huge backlog of emails and work, or is taking some days off, or they are coming from a culture who does not know how to say no, or just wanted to get rid of a pesky neighbour in a diplomatic way. I would wait a bit more time for an answer, and probably wont count much on a neighbor getting updates from vague promises made by another neighboor... – Rui F Ribeiro Apr 20 at 16:37
  • @Rui: That could be the case. I'm pretty much resigned at this point that nothing will come of this. – Liz Apr 20 at 20:25

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