Dear Sensible Midwesterner,
I’m in the process of applying for a prestigious artist residency. I just found out that an acquaintance of mine (we’ve been in the same book group for just over a year, so we know each other through the mutual friend who put the group together; I have his email address, but have heretofore only used it for book group business) serves on the board for the institution that hosts the residency.
Would it be untoward to ask him what they look for in successful applicants?
Not Sure How to Network
Dear Not Sure,
Not at all! People who volunteer their time and other resources to serve on boards are, for the most part, devoted advocates of those organizations. And in general, people like to help other people, especially those they know, and especially in areas of their expertise.
It would be most inappropriate, as you seem to know, to ask for special treatment of your application, but it would be short-sighted of you not to 1) let him know you’re applying in case he’d like to bring special attention to your application, and 2) ask him for general advice in case he feels like giving it.
An email along the lines of, “Dear John, You mentioned that you’re on the board of the Great Residency Group. I’ve decided to apply for the fall term and was wondering if you have any advice as I put my application together. Any insight into what makes a successful applicant would be much appreciated.” The open and general nature of this request will allow your acquaintance to offer the exact amount of assistance he feels comfortable giving (including “follow the guidelines on the site,” which is code for “please don’t ask me about this anymore”). You should be able to gauge how specific any follow-up questions you may have should be (or if there should be any) based on his response.