How Many Times Can I Ask A Networking Contact For Help? columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues–everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

How many times is it appropriate to reach out to networking contacts for informational interviews, referrals, connections, etc.?

I have been searching on and off over the past two years. I don’t want to take advantage of my older networking contacts who have already helped me, and I would certainly return any favors if I could! But I’m trying to find an opportunity in a pretty small field and can use all the help I can get. Any ideas how to navigate this?

It depends on how well you know each contact. The closer you are to someone, the more often you can ask for help. If the contact is your best friend, she might be happy to help you multiple times per month. If the contact isn’t someone you know well, the limit is generally closer to once or twice a year. For someone in between — let’s say a former coworker who likes you — you’re probably safe with two or three requests in a year’s time, but you’d want to be really effusively appreciative that third time, and more than that risks feeling like too much.

It’s also important to pay attention to people’s cues. If someone responds to you right away and sounds enthusiastic about helping, those are good signs that you haven’t worn out your welcome. On the other hand, if someone takes a while to respond and is pretty brief and business-like when they do, that might not be someone to go back to again for a while.

You can also attempt to elicit some cues about how welcome additional contact would be. If this is the second or third time you’ve called on someone for help, you can say something like, “I know I’ve asked you for a lot of help lately, and I’m so grateful for favor X and favor Y.” If the person responds with genuine-sounding encouragement not to worry about it (“Don’t worry about that at all — I’m happy to help, and let me know what else I can do”), you can probably believe that. On the other hand, if the person doesn’t say much in response to that, that may be a sign that their welcome mat is not exactly out for more favors. That doesn’t mean you’ve overstepped or they resent you — just that you might give them a rest as far as future requests.

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