By Poornima Vijayashanker
You’ve spent time working hard, really hard, but you don’t always see the results you want. Even after being patient and waiting weeks, months, even years you are left wondering, “What it’s going to take to get to the next level?” This is a common question people ask themselves during the course of their careers or while they’re building a business.
The truth is you cannot get to the next level alone. You need help brainstorming and solving problems. Help that comes from a number of people: employees, partners, mentors, advisors, even friends! If you’re a social butterfly like me who seeks people out, and often lends a helping hand, then you probably already know how to ask for help. But, if you’re shy or have just been so heads down here are some suggestions for ways to ask for help.
Start by making a list of people who you’d like to mentor or advise you. Don’t discount people who are hard to reach, just know that it will take awhile, and a few different avenues to get to them. Use your favorite professional or social networking tool to see if one of your friends will make an introduction. You might be a few degrees away from people. If you see that you have a mutual friend, send them a couple short sentences on why you want the introduction.
Once that’s done, you’ll have to wait, for a week, maybe even two for a response. If you don’t hear back it’s OK to follow up! Even if things don’t work out, always, always thank your friend for making or trying to make the introduction. If they aren’t comfortable or don’t know the person well, don’t push too hard. Try another avenue, like an event, or even a cold call! While this approach can be a little scary, it is often the most authentic. Authentic?! Well it depends on how often you message someone, and the message you send. I’ve had people who have reached out to me multiple times (over the course of a few months – not every day or every week). They kept me updated on their progress, and eventually I had time and my interest increased because I saw they were focused. People also come up to me at events, it’s easier to see that someone is genuinely in need of help face to face, and who might just be trying to pick my brain.
Meet people IRL (in real life) and use the smile sandwich. If you need an icebreaker start with something simple like (smile), “Hi I’m Poornima. I’ve been a startup junkie now for 7 years, but when I’m not building I love going to yoga. What are you into?” (Smile!) The smile sandwich is the key! It eases people into a conversation. Try coming up with your own icebreakers, and testing them out the next time you’re stuck in an elevator or line. The good news is that even if you don’t hit it off with the other person, it’s a short enough time frame to make a getaway!
Now do realize that someone you just met might be highly opposed to working with you, and that’s OK too. It’s up to you to show that you are reputable, credible, and serious about getting help, sometimes that just takes time. Follow up as you make progress or hit certain milestones.
Most people are open to mentoring and advising others for free, but those who are in high demand are just hard to reach, and no amount of compensation can get you some of their time. If you’re stuck and really need help try seeking out career or business coaches. While you have to pay these people (and their rates will vary) most coaches will get you to the next level, because that is their job! Good ones have strong networks that they can leverage to help you out too.
No matter who or how you reach out to someone, prepare your ASK. Stay away from things like: “I just wanna pick your brain.” This is a clear sign that you don’t know what you want, and it will make it even harder for someone to help you. Instead keep the ASK focused. What do you need help with, and how much time will it take? e.g. “I’m reaching out because I know you’ve done a fabulous job recruiting some top technical talent. Could I get an hour of your time to come in and analyze what my startup team might be doing wrong when it comes to sourcing a candidate?” OR “I’d like to apply for the product manager position at XYZ Inc. I see that you’ve been working there for X years. Could I get 15 minutes of your time to understand the role, and what the hiring manager is looking for in a potential candidates?”
Like any good relationship, it’s up to you to follow up after the initial interaction, and keep building upon it if you think the person was helpful.
I’m curious to know what techniques you’ve tried and have worked for you? Please let me know in the comments below!