I received an email the other day where the author wrote to me with the following scenario:
I recently attended a conference and spoke with a representative from a government contractor about the work the company does to support their federal government customers. After further research, I’ve decided I’m interested in working for the company; is it acceptable to contact the person I spoke with at the conference about employment? If so, is there a protocol I should follow?
At many conferences, there are networking events and roundtables where one can meet and develop relationships with other professionals within the field. These contacts can help in a variety of ways (sharing ideas, solutions, contacts, etc.), including networking for a career move.
While there is no official protocol one has to follow, typically an outreach asking for a meeting (lunch/cup of coffee outside the office) or phone call is acceptable. There are some considerations one should be aware of when reaching out to the contact:
Contact’s Career Path: It would be awkward to reach out to a contact you met at a conference to inquire about a position within the contact’s company only to find out the person is a candidate for the job as well. Only slightly less awkward would be if the position you are targeting would have supervisory overview of your contact, thus putting the contact in an awkward place to help his/her future boss get a job. Be cognizant of the career location of your contact so as not to put the two of you in potentially awkward situations.
Conflict of Interest: As this individual mentioned government contractors and customers, one should always be sure there is no conflict of interest, real or perceived. If your receiving help could be used to curry favor from a client of your current employer (favorable pricing, inside information, etc.), use caution and your best judgement to ensure you do not accidentally run afoul of employment laws or give the impression of impropriety.
Meeting Place: I often encourage meeting a contact face-to-face in order build the best relationship possible. When meeting a contact, take into consideration the venue. As the author of the email is interested in a job with the contact’s company, it may be wise to first meet the contact outside the workplace so as not to cause issues if you were to show up a week later for an interview. Depending upon the office layout, it may be difficult to ensure privacy, another reason to consider meeting outside the office setting. I recommend giving the contact the option – “should we meet at the corner coffeehouse or would your office be more convenient?”
In the end, there is no protocol. Reaching out to a contact is always better than passing up a potential “in” with an organization. Just be aware of these potential pitfalls – your contact will appreciate your professionalism.