Guide to asking for advice #blindpost

by jeffhilimire on January 9, 2014

Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with one of my favorite startups in the Village in Atlanta, period. The CEO asked me to come and talk to his team about my experiences building and selling a similar business, give them advice, pump them up, etc. Considering his company at this size reminds me a LOT of my company at the same size in 2001, it was a blast to compare and give them advice and share my experiences.

One of the things I talked to them about was the importance of getting good advice, be it from a formal advisory board or individual mentors. And since my good friend Stephanie* suggested a blindpost last week on the article, Esquire Guy’s Guide to Asking for Advice, I thought I’d share my thoughts on how to ask someone for advice.

Guide to asking for advice

Pick the right person to ask – This is huge. Let’s say you’re a laid back, very creative individual and you’re looking for career advice. Don’t ask the gung-ho, killer negotiating sales guru for advice on your career. Ask someone that you want to emulate and that can relate to you and give appropriate advice.

Just ask – You’d be surprised how hard it is for people to ask someone to coffee to get advice. Or maybe you wouldn’t be surprised because the sound of that might be terrifying. But people LOVE to give advice. I’m always surprised at the level of people who are willing to give me advice. So don’t overthink it, just ask! The worst thing they can say is “no”.

Phone, in-person, Twitter, LinkedIn or email are all appropriate ways to ask someone for help. Having a personal connection to them is always a help as well.

Be clear about what you want to learn – When you do ask, make it clear what you want to learn. “I’m currently having trouble figuring out how to progress in my career. I feel like I’ve been stuck in the same role for years. You’ve been incredibly successful with your career, I’d love to hear some of your experience and advice on this topic” is much better than “Let me buy you a cup of coffee and pick your brain.”

Act on the advice – You don’t have to follow all the advice given, but there will likely be things that you need to act on. Don’t go through the hard work of getting advice from someone and then not take advantage of it. Plus, the next time you meet with that person they’ll likely want to know what you acted on and what you didn’t. Don’t be the schlub that never got to doing anything.

Follow up – After you have your meeting, make sure to send a thoughtful follow up note (hand-written preferably). Be specific in the note about the things you heard that you are going to follow up on. This makes a huge difference and you’re more likely to get that second date.

~ if you liked this blindpost, here are more you can check out. And a handful of my friends will suggest blindposts for me to write from time to time, please feel free to do that too!

* Stephanie has written her first blindpost, check it out!

  • Mara Maddox

    How do you always hit the mark? You must have “mindreader” on your resume.

  • Stephanie Critchfield

    Great thoughts on advice, Jeff. JUST ASK is so true — I’ve always been surprised by the willingness from all kinds of people to listen and give advice. I have almost never been turned down. And you’re right, the way to make the most out of these opportunities is to be prepared — know what you want to know. :) Oh and thanks for the shoutout!

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