I consider myself pretty assertive when it comes to my career. I’m balancing freelance clients, pitching magazines, working for my dad’s company, traveling for work, writing my blog, etc. I work from home, which definitely requires discipline too. But I’m also afraid of being annoying, so I’ve been known to refrain from asking from help that could advance my career. I’d rather try to do it on my own so I don’t feel like I’m bothering anyone.
But this past weekend I was at an alumni event for my college radio station. There, I fully realized just how important it is to use your network. It’s not about using people or pestering them. It’s about using your resources so you can get to where you want to be. And returning the favor, of course! I was telling one alum about my writing goals. She quickly offered to make an introduction for me with someone she knows at a magazine.To her, the offer was no big deal. It would take a quick e-mail and she was glad to do it. To me, it was so important and generous.
This kind of help isn’t unique to my college radio station. It works in your alumni group in your new city, your religious organization, your sorority or frat, anything like that. In general, people want to help each other, especially when they know you/feel connected to you/genuinely like you.
But here’s the thing: when you’re going to ask someone to help you out, you have to make it easy for them. How do you do that?
- Know what you want: When someone asks you a general question about what you’re looking to do, you should be able to summarize your goals in 30 seconds or less. What are you doing now? What do you want to be doing in a year? What about in 5 or 10 years? This gives them a broad sense of what you’re all about, and allows them to quickly think about anyone they may know who could assist.
- Follow up: When you’re asking someone else to help you, the burden is on YOU to follow up. My alum friend and I had our conversation in an airport as we dealt with a travel headache. She asked me to send her a reminder e-mail asking for the introduction when we all got home. I did. If someone asks you to remind them to do something, do it! Another example: I was in Sephora and got to talking about my blog with a girl who works there. She had been dying to start a blog and wanted some tips. I’m no expert, but I said I’d be glad to get coffee with her and tell her about how I started mine. I gave her my card and told her to call me or e-mail me. She never did. If someone offers help, it’s up to you to take the next step.
- Have a little bio prepared: You should have a two or three sentence bio prepared that your mutual friend can use in an e-mail when they’re introducing you to someone. This way they don’t have to waste 15 minutes trying to figure out what to say in the e-mail.
- Don’t make the favor completely unreasonable: If I had asked to be connected with the Editor-In-Chief of Glamour, would my friend have been as eager to help? Would she even have had the ability? Probably not. If you start asking for ridiculous favors, no one is going to want to help you. The task should be easy for the person to complete. Don’t make them spend hours of their day running around for you.
Do you have trouble asking for help like I did? How did you overcome that?