Updated: Jan 12
I love getting specific emails asking me for advice.
I’m happy to answer them and usually make time in my schedule monthly to do that.
But I never respond to emails where somebody says, “Can you tell me how you got started?” — Nope. You can Google that. In fact, I’ve even included highlights from my career journey on my website.
When you reach out to someone seeking career advice… you have to be specific.
If you're interested in learning about what makes someone like me answer an email versus not answer an email, here are two things you need to know…
#1 - Be Clear and Keep It Short
If we don’t know each other, I want you to be direct and brief.
Tell me who you are (in 2 sentences or less) and then let me know how I can help. Bonus points if you are specific in telling me WHY you think I’m the right person to help you. (This also tells me you’ve done your homework and helps me think about clear ways to give you support).
I am looking for these cues that you’ve already done your research and that the labor won’t be on me to figure things out. Ask for no more than 10-15 minutes of time — be open to an email exchange (not always convenient to do a Zoom) and by all means, if this is our first email exchange, don’t ask for multiple things (like intros to people and time to “pick my brain”) — be strategic in your ask.
#2 - Offer Something In Return
Time is money. But more so, time is energy.
And one way to respect someone’s time is to offer to return the energy they’ve spent on you. That could mean: buying their book, writing a review for a project they're involved with, and asking them how you can help support their work going forward.
Not that this relationship has to be transactional, but even if you are the one seeking advice, it can be relational — it can be equitable — by asking what you can do to help. Sometimes if a person is perceived to have success in their career, people may assume they have it all figured out. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
We all need support… no matter what stage of our career we're at.
One of my greatest joys is developing mentorship relationships - but I believe in reverse mentorship - with each party providing nurturing and support to the other. You may not think you have anything to offer if you are at the beginning stages of your professional career (or even in a transition) - but that also couldn’t be further from the truth.
We are humans after all. And we crave connection. And being seen.
Don’t let titles or perceived status keep you from really connecting with someone.
So… I hope you use this advice the next time you reach out to someone — don’t try to “pick their brain” — instead focus on building a connection - with clarity, specificity, and equal support in mind.