When you are reaching out to meet someone or asking them for help of some kind, your success will often depend on how you make the request.
People are an important career resource and often they can help you more than a book or a computer. People tend to have a lot of hang-ups about asking for things: we often feel uncomfortable doing so, and we often have a limited idea of how others might help us.
My colleague and Next Step Partners co-founder Rebecca Zucker is a consummate networker who has an uncanny knack for setting the right tone when making requests — one that is neither desperate nor entitled.
In Episode 13 of my Career Stewardship podcast, Rebecca and I discuss what does and doesn’t work when it comes to making requests.
The power of specific and clear requests
Rebecca highlights that “Being specific in your request helps people help you.” To illustrate the point she tells the story of someone referred to her by a mutual friend who was planning to move to San Francisco and looking for introductions. When Rebecca connected with her and asked what kinds of people she was interested in meeting, the other person couldn’t get more specific than “just people.” A phrase she repeated several times.
Rebecca was able and willing to introduce her to a wide variety of people: moms with small kids, people who windsurf, people in biotech. Rebecca is very well connected and likes making new connections for people. But because the request was so vague she didn’t know who to introduce the person to – and she wasn’t going to risk her personal capital and potentially waste other people’s time.
Takeaway: Do your homework to get clear on what you want and to think about how the person you’re connecting with can be uniquely helpful to you.
Introductions are what most people are requesting most often. Rebecca highlights two important things to know.
First, set up your request as a double opt-in introduction. Rebecca explains, “This is where both parties agree to the introduction and to being connected with each other. When you are making the requests of your contacts to introduce you to somebody else, be sure to acknowledge that they will want to see if the other person will be willing to talk to you.”
Second, be sure to give your contact a graceful out. “People will appreciate that you respect them enough to not put them in an awkward situation,” says Rebecca and she goes on to share a sample email request that you can feel comfortable sending.
An interesting point: making an introduction for others is a great way to enhance your own network. So if I reach out to two separate people asking if they would like to be connected, I’m also reinforcing my own relationships with those folks and we have a natural jumping-off point for reconnecting.
More advice for making requests
Over the course of our 20-minute conversation, Rebecca and I share a range of practical tips for making effective requests, including:
- How to frame your requests to make it easy for others to say yes … or no
- Expanding your ideas of how other people might help you (it’s more than just providing leads or making introductions)
- The one sentence that will make you stand out in a good way
- How to get over your fear of making requests
- Homework to do before you make your request
- How requests can increase other people’s commitment to your success
About the Career Stewardship with Michael Melcher podcast
This ongoing podcast from career expert, Michael Melcher, will help you figure out what to do about your career during lockdown and beyond. Each episode offers best practices, stories from the field, and bite-sized tips to help build your career success in both the short and long term.
As one of the partners at Next Step Partners, Michael is a seasoned expert on developing leaders and helping senior professionals make career transitions. A former lawyer, foreign service officer and startup CEO, he has navigated several career transitions himself.
Subscribe to Career Stewardship with Michael Melcher on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcast or your favorite platform. You can find additional resources on the show website: CareerStewardship.com.
About Rebecca Zucker
Rebecca Zucker is a partner at Next Step Partners. Her clients rely on her intelligence, pragmatism, and unwavering professionalism to demystify the process of growth to achieve their goals. In addition to coaching leaders across the globe, she regularly publishes articles on leadership at Harvard Business Review and Forbes.
Are you interested in providing resources for your team members to help them manage their careers or figure out their next step?
Next Step Partners provides virtual workshops and individual coaching on career stewardship and career change to companies that want to support their employees in achieving their career goals.
Related content by Next Step Partners executive coaches:
- | The Secret to Finding Lasting Career Satisfaction
- | 20 Minutes a Day to Career Fulfillment
- | Career Stewardship: Five Ways to Invest in Your Career Right Now
- | How to Email Someone You Haven’t Talked to in Forever
- | Career Handbook for Working Professionals
- | Cultivate Resilience: How to Get Back on the Horse
How we work
- | Career Transition Services
- | Executive Coaching Services
- | Leadership Development Services
- | Frequently Asked Questions
- | Who we’ve successfully helped
San Francisco | 415.762.0148
Los Angeles | 310.739.2622
New York | 646.489.4494
We look forward to connecting with you soon.