Thirteen reasons why… I might say no to writing a recommendation or making an intro

It is not you, it is me. This is the negatively stereotyped way to race out of an uncomfortable break-up with someone. In fact, in the professional world of requests for recommendations and introductions there are a bunch of reasons why I, or someone, might say no to your request.

13 reasons why_In ARticle

I do get a sizable number of such requests weekly and do my best to aid as many seeking help as possible. I also tend to be more generous than most in getting to yes, but people can make it hard. 

Fortunately, many of the reasons that get me to “no” can be prevented by treating me, or any other person you might seek support from, like a decent human. You have the antidote to much of the possible rejection in your capable hands. 

I would not ever say, or write, “it’s not you it is me,” but I counted at least thirteen reasons why I might say no to help you with a written recommendation or introduction. That is right. 13. Otherwise known as “the baker’s dozen.” 

I do not want to come across as a negative jerk, either. At least, not totally. So, try to flip these reasons on their head if you are trying to get a “yes” from me or anyone else.

I do not know you at all. We have never met or met quickly at an event. You may see me as your best point of connection. However, I do not feel informed enough to serve as the person who advocates for you. If you had reached out to get to know me before you needed something, you might be in a better position.

I do not know you well enough in the right capacity. You were an awesome pickleball teammate or our kids are friends from 4H. I like you well enough but have zero knowledge of your abilities in this professional domain. Have we had a conversation about your work before which might have offered up some insight?

I do not know them well not pin your hopes on me. I met the person you want to meet or know just a bit about the opportunity you want. I do not think that I know either well enough, or am known well enough, to lobby effectively on your behalf. You presume my relationship or standing in the field is greater than it is.

I am saving my social capital with that person or institution for later. This is the least frequent reason for me, but I know it comes up often for others. We all have contacts that we can reach out to infrequently, so, given those limitations I may be incredibly careful about when I make such requests and for what. 

I know you well enough to see how you might mess this up and make me look bad. I do not completely trust you based on things that I have seen you do in the past. Perhaps I do not think you are dependable or are going to prepare well for any interviews that will be required. It just makes me uneasy.

You have made me look bad in the past. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Not again. Furthermore, you may not have ever apologized. Food for thought, this one. 

You are a user. I only hear from you when you want something, and it makes me feel bad about you and worse about me. I do not love the Bill Withers song about “keep on using me until you use me up.” I prefer my own version, which is, “stop using me and go away.” But it is less tuneful, I will admit. 

I do not know why you gave me so little time. I get far too many 3–4-day turn-around requests for a recommendation or quickly-closing job. It is possible that you discovered the opportunity late, but it may well make me think that you are doing a last-minute job on your application, which has less chance of being successful. If I am in a rush, I am also not going to do my best job on your behalf. 

I am strapped for time overall. Life can get busy for all of us. I am just busy at the moment and cannot take on something else right now. If you give me a draft of a recommendation or a note that lowers the bar a bit, it might help... 

Someone asked me first or recently. There are people I know or opportunities that I am connected to that many folks want access to. I may not want to strain my relationship with the individual or organization by flooding them with requests, letters, or recommendations. 

Someone I like better asked me first or recently. So sometimes it is not about the when, but the who. Someone I know much better or prefer, for whatever reason, has made a request and I feel more drawn to help them. Again, this one might offer food for thought. If you consider food that tastes bitter to be a kind of medicine. 

Someone who is a better fit asked me first. YES, even more annoying. You might be ok but given what I know I have analyzed that someone else seems to make greater sense. Of course, this does not mean I am right. It is just my analysis. 

I do not think you are a good fit. I struggle to see the alignment between you and this person or opportunity. I am doing an analysis in my head and given how you show up in the world I am not sure that you and this person will jibe well or that you and a selection committee will mesh well. Depending upon our relationship I might give you more context, but not always.

I know that was a lot to take in. However, if you build authentic relationships and offer people requests with enough time you can greatly lessen your nos. Good luck getting more yeses. And also, please know that the majority of people who know me hear “yes” a lot. I really do not enjoy saying “no,” but it can sometimes be necessary.

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