It’s funny how our minds play tricks on us. There are no stakes to asking somebody out for coffee, and for help finding a job. You won’t die. You won’t get injured. The worst thing that can happen is the person says “no.” If you never asked, you wouldn’t have been going to coffee anyway. Nothing lost.
Still, the first 10 times I tried talking to new people, I got so nervous. I still get nervous about asking somebody more senior for advice.
So I wrote these scripts for myself to use when I email or talk to people on the phone. Hope they’re useful for you as well. These scripts will walk you through the whole process, from setting up the meeting to asking for job leads.
Setting up the meeting
Send an email or call on the phone with the following script (tweak it a little so it sounds like you and not like me):
My name is Jessie, and I’m a recent Michigan State grad — go Trojans! I found your information from the Alumni network, and I saw that you were also a marketing/communications graduate
I’m thinking of making the move to Washington, DC, and I was hoping to pick your brain about the transition since you also made the move after college.
I’d love to set up a time to chat next week and hear your expertise, no more than 20 minutes of your time — I promise.
Would Tuesday around 2pm work?
Hope to hear from you soon,
You won’t receive a response from every email you send out. Some will say no or not respond at all. That’s okay. All we need is one “yes.”
Arriving at the meeting
Get there early. Do not, do not, do not be late.
When the other person walks in, shake hands, order the coffee, you pay for it (this person is doing you a favor) unless they insist, find a place to sit.
Say these things:
I really appreciate you taking the time to meet with me… [Let them respond]
You’ve got a bit more experience than I do. How long have you been in the industry? [Let them respond, then ask follow-ups: where did you start? How did you learn?]
And you’re off. This conversation should be 80% them talking. only in the last 20% should you ask questions pertinent to yourself. So, in a 20 minute conversation, 16 minutes should be about them, only 4 about you.
If you find the conversation slowing, here are some good questions to memorize. These questions require that you do research and know about the person ahead of time. LinkedIn is great for this.
- I know you started out in x industry, how did you end up in y industry? How did you think about making the switch?
- Early in your career were there any books or learning tools that stood out as particularly effective?
- What were some of your favorite projects you worked on at XYZ company?
Be careful that it doesn’t turn into an interrogation, asking so may questions. Instead, use a few phrases like this to break the questions:
- It must have been difficult/exciting/stressful/etc doing x while also doing y… [Let them chime in]
- That’s really impressive/brave/interesting/etc that you were able to accomplish x in y amount of time
Asking for advice
Toward the tail end of your conversation, frame up the reason why you need advice. Tell the person about your current situation and what you’re trying to do.
Be careful. Do not ramble on and on about your problems. 2 to 3 sentences should be enough to generally describe your situation.
Explain what you’re currently thinking. “I’ve already tried a, b, and c.”
Then ask for the advice. “I’m thinking about doing x, y, or z next. How would you approach my project/decision/problem?”
If you’re job hunting, this is the part where you ask for advice on how to get into the industry. Do not ask outright for a job.
See what’s happening here? You tell them:
- “I’m trying to get into the industry.” — aka I’m interested in a job
- “I’ve already tried a, b, and c” — I’m taking initiative and trying other options on my own.
- “I’m thinking of x, y, or z next. What do you think?” — Low-key opportunity for the person to offer help and guidance.
When you get your answer, make note of the important parts. What things are actionable? What can I implement tomorrow or in the coming days?
Repeat those action items to the person you’re meeting with. Tell them how thankful you are for the advice. Let them know that you’ll definitely buy a copy of that book/try implementing that habit/get in touch with the suggested person.
The part most people skip
Do not skip this part: Actually follow through on the advice you received.
Try it out and let the person know how it went. This is the basis for a relationship now. If you have trouble implementing the advice, ask for help. If the advice works, share your results.
This is the key to building lasting relationships.
Relationships are what get you to your dream career.
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