Reference requests

4 ways to avoid 'networking fatigue'

July 22, 2011: 10:15 AM ET

Overwhelmed by requests for references, recommendations, and advice? Here's how to keep from burning out.

By Anne Fisher, contributor

FORTUNE -- Dear Annie: Your column on how to network without wearing out one's welcome caught my eye, because I've been struggling with the exact kind of "networking fatigue" you mentioned. Thanks to a couple of high-profile positions I've held, I'm very visible in my industry, and know a great many people in it, so I receive a constant flood of requests for recommendations (both "live" and online), references, introductions, job leads, advice, and so on.

I want to be helpful, especially to people who have been job hunting for a long time, but this is networking run amok. Do I have an obligation to serve as a reference, even for people whose work I either don't know that well or don't think was so great? And can I honor some requests for help and not others without burning any bridges? — Mr. Popularity

Dear MP: To answer your first question first: No. You are under no obligation to give anyone a reference if you would rather not. Legally, past employers aren't required to respond at all to reference requests, and most big companies have a policy of limiting their (entirely optional) responses to a bare minimum of information, i.e., job title and dates of employment.

But legalities aside, your larger dilemma is how to do the right thing without letting your helpfulness eat up every spare minute of your day.

Marc Cenedella, founder and CEO of executive career site TheLadders.com, has a few thoughts on this since he, like you, is constantly besieged by networking requests. He offers these four suggestions: More

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