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How To Ask For Help With Your Career (And Get It)

by | Oct 30, 2013 | General Career Advice

Before I jump into the advice portion of this article, please allow me a moment to vent…

I get anywhere from a couple dozen to a hundred or more emails a week from my blog readers. I love it and I read them all, I assure you. I do not, however, answer them all. If you’ve sent me a message and waited breathlessly for a reply that never came, keep reading. I’m going to give you some tough love, followed by some tactical solutions for your problem.

Here’s what happens about 60 to 70% of the time: A reader writes an email that outlines every detail of his or her career situation—pages of text giving me background and side stories and every piece of information I could possibly need to provide the helpful advice this person is seeking.

And then, one of three things happens:

  • The person simply stops writing. There’s no request for help. No specific question asked. Nothing.
  • The person acknowledges that he or she can’t pay me for my service but would like the help anyway.
  • The person asks, “What should I do?” or some version of it.

These are the messages I typically don’t return—not because I don’t care, but because it would be impossible to do so given the volume of work I have on my plate.

But there’s another reason I don’t respond too. You see, I don’t have any desire to help people who can’t first help themselves. (And I believe the vast majority of the world would agree with this sentiment.)

However, it dawned on me this morning that many people might not know exactly how to do that. And that’s okay!! I shouldn’t get annoyed, right? Instead, I should teach people what they need to know about asking for help. And that’s what this article is really about (it’s not just an excuse for me to blow off steam, I promise!).

So here’s what it takes to get the career help you’re looking for, whether from me or anyone else.

1. Be Quick

Everyone in the world has Attention Deficit Disorder these days, so get to your point quickly. Don’t waste the person’s time with endless details before you’ve even determined whether or not he or she is able (and willing) to provide the support you’re after.

Simple trick: Practice defining your problem in three sentences or less. Until you can do that, it’s not the right time to ask for help.

2. Be Specific

Make a direct, specific request. What exactly are you seeking? Don’t be coy. Put it all out there in a straightforward easy-to-understand way.

3. Be Willing To Do Your Part

Let’s be honest: If you’re not willing to invest anything in this, why would anyone else want to? And I’m not just talking about financial investment either. Sure, if you’re approaching a career coach who makes a living providing this service, you should expect a fee. If you aren’t willing to pay, don’t expect a service.

However, even if you’re just asking a trusted friend or advisor for some guidance, you should still demonstrate your personal investment in the process. What are you going to do to make their investment of time and energy worthwhile? Maybe you can offer to treat them to lunch. Maybe you can simply acknowledge the favor by letting them know you’ll owe them one. Or perhaps you just need to assure them that you’ll listen with an open mind and that you’ll take their advice to heart. Often it doesn’t take much to convince someone you’re looking for assistance, not a handout.

What you should NOT do is expect a free ride. You shouldn’t expect to unload on someone, grab their valuable advice and run off into the night without a hint of reciprocation.

4. Keep Expectations In Check

Sometimes I wonder if the people who send me those emails think I’m psychic. For some reason, they expect me to simply give them all the answers to their career problems—and to do so for free over email.

I make it a rule as a coach never to TELL people what to do. Why? Because it’s impossible for ME to know what’s right for YOU—no matter how much information you send in an email. Telling is not coaching.

Don’t trust anyone who professes to have all the answers. A good coach will guide you in finding your own answers. That’s the only way to reach the right conclusion for YOU.

Never ask for help and expect miracles. If you’re looking for an easy, fast solution, grab a dart and throw it at the wall. Use that as your guide. I guarantee the success rate will be the same as if I threw an answer at you over email.

5. Be NICE

There’s no shame in asking for help, but it’s still a request. You’re asking another person to use his or her precious time and energy in service of you. Acknowledge that. Be sincere, polite and humble. And above all else, be nice. A little flattery never hurt anyone. Let the person know why you trust him or her to guide you in this situation.

If you’re requesting help from someone you don’t know, this one is even more important. Explain who you are, how you found this person, and why you’re drawn to them.

I hope this article helps at least a few of my dear readers help themselves. It doesn’t take much to get what you’re after. Follow these tips and I promise, you’ll find the help you’re looking for.

Photo Credit: Patrick Fingle (Flickr)

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About the Author

Chrissy Scivicque is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and certified Professional Career Manager (PCM). She is an author, in-demand presenter and international speaker known for engaging, entertaining, educating and empowering audiences of all sizes and backgrounds. Learn more here.

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