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.
A lot of people think cover letters are relics of the past. But truth be told, they’re still a crucial part of the job search process. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should just throw one together and check the box. You want to use the cover letter as an opportunity to differentiate yourself from the crowd. In my recent segment on Fox 31 Denver’s Good Day Colorado, I address the importance of cover letters and the various things you should include to make yours stand out. Watch and learn!
*Also watch as the new anchor gets me all worked up with his “gimmicky” ideas right around the 2 minute mark!!
Don’t worry. I’m not turning this into a political thing. Admittedly, not so long ago, I admired the guy. Anthony Weiner has always been outspoken and unafraid. I loved this video of him on the House floor fighting for compensation for the heroes and victims of 9/11. When we talk about finding your voice in the workplace, Weiner was definitely a role model.
And then…the photo. Oh, Mr. Weiner. You disappoint us so…
(Note: If you don’t live in North America and you haven’t been subjected to a really uncomfortable two weeks of news coverage known as “Weinergate,” a quick Google search will answer your questions.)
Here’s the thing: I truly believe that what people do privately—as long as it’s legal and doesn’t interfere with their ability to the job—is their business. I don’t want to know what happens in the bedroom of my politicians, my co-workers, or my employers.
But there are two things about this particular case that really get me. And these are the two things that take it from being a private matter to a public one. These are the two things that turn personal lapses of judgment into fire-able offenses (in my opinion). So let’s consider this a lesson for the workplace. No matter what you do in your time outside of the office, I ask you to keep in mind these two points.
Showing flagrant irresponsibility in your private life brings your judgment at work into question.
Even if your irresponsible actions are legal and they do not in any way impact your ability to do the job, they still make others lose confidence. People look at you and think, “If she’s that stupid in her private life, I wonder what she’s doing at work that I don’t know about…”
You see, Weiner didn’t just make one mistake with this Twitter photo. He did it over and over. He took stupid risks. That kind of brazen bad behavior makes you wonder if he’s taking stupid risks on the job as well. Maybe he’s not. Maybe he demonstrates impeccable judgment when he’s not on Twitter. But the trust that was once there is gone.
Keep this in mind in your own life. Even if your outside activities are completely separate from your work, how would they impact that trust? If people knew more about your private life, would they still have faith in your judgment? I’m not saying you have to walk around like a saint, but maybe think twice before dancing topless on the bar. These days, you never know what evidence may fall into the hands of your employer.
Do not use work resources for personal matters.
The other potential issue I have with this Weinergate story is that it appears the Congressman may (though he’s denying it right now) have used public resources to engage in this stuff. If he did indeed use his work computer or take those photos while conducting official business, it’s definitely a bigger issue. It’s one thing to have a messy personal life, but this would make it no longer personal.
Again, keep this in mind in your own life. Work is work. Don’t use work resources or work time for personal matters, questionable or not. This almost goes without saying but it happens time and time again. Don’t write emails to your boyfriend from your work computer. Don’t jump on Facebook from your work computer.
If you do, it’s no longer personal; it’s business. Perhaps you’re okay with that. But remember that one day, you might not be. Once you open that can of worms, it’s open. Separating the two parts of your life after they’ve been mixed up is like trying to pull the eggs out of the cake batter.
So let’s turn this whole messy affair into a positive learning experience. If you want to enjoy an irresponsible personal life, keep it far, far away from your business. Or, better yet, clean up your act. In most cases, it’s just not worth it.
Here’s a hard truth that some of you will hate to hear: If you don’t stand up for yourself and specifically ASK for what you want, need and deserve in the workplace, you probably won’t get it.
Most people (your managers, coworkers, clients, etc.) aren’t looking out for anyone but themselves. This shouldn’t surprise or anger you. Yet every day, I meet professionals who are unwilling to take responsibility for their own needs and desires because they’re afraid or embarrassed. They think, “If I really deserve this thing, they’ll offer it to me.” These people find excuses for why things don’t work out; they drop hints and play games. But they never just bite the bullet and say, “Here’s what I want, here’s why I want it, and here’s why I think you should give it to me.” And then they wonder why they feel so powerless.
People can’t read your mind (and let’s face it, they wouldn’t want to if they could). So it’s up to you to explain what’s going on in there. When you want something, you have to ask for it, plain and simple. Here’s how:
Know Why It Matters
Whatever “it” is—a promotion, a raise, an extra day of vacation, a little help with a project—you have to be clear about what it’s worth to you, why you’re willing to stand up for it, and why it should be yours. Come up with the top three reasons your boss (client, coworker or whoever) simply can’t say no. And, most importantly, make sure you believe you deserve it with all your heart (even if it takes a little convincing).
The process of asking works best when you’re specific, concise and very, very direct. The more vague you are, the more likely your request will be misinterpreted or ignored. I recommend writing it out. One or two sentences is usually all it takes to clearly state your case. It also works best to start with the words, “I’m asking for…” so there’s no confusion.
Pick Your Time
Make sure the person to whom you’re making your request is really listening. Otherwise, your efforts will be wasted. If needed, ask for an appointment to ensure there are no interruptions. (Also, make sure you’re directing your ask to the right person.)
Prepare for Objections
If something matters, it probably won’t be handed over without a little hesitation. That’s perfectly fine. Prepare in advance for potential objections but don’t do the work for them. In this process, you are the sales person. Recognize that your “buyer” is just doing his due diligence but don’t let him persuade you. Stand firm and map out your rebuttals. Look at it as a challenge. This is the fun part!
Confidence makes all the difference. Put your thoughts on paper and then practice, practice, practice. Stand in front of the mirror and watch yourself. Don’t stop until you’re thoroughly comfortable and the words roll of your tongue. Yes, it might feel a little goofy at first, but you’ll get over it. The more you can demonstrate that you believe in yourself and that what you’re asking for is rightfully yours, the greater the chance that you’ll get a positive response.
If your request is declined, don’t put your tail between your legs and go home. Instead, use this as a conversation starter. Ask for more information. Fight for your point-of-view. Find out what needs to happen in order to get to “yes”. Press for specifics and get agreement. Then, follow up. Remember: When something is really worthwhile, it may take time to achieve.
One of my favorite lines from any movie is when Jeff Golblum, looking at the wrath of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, offers this profound thought:
Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.
I love this because it’s so applicable to my career coaching clients. This is the problem many people find themselves in with work. They’re told they have an ability—You’re really good with numbers…you should be an accountant!—but they never stop to think if it’s the right thing to do.
Talent is awesome. We all have it to a certain extent. Whatever your unique ability, it feels wonderful to be recognized for being good at something. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to make a fulfilling career. In fact, for some people, it’s the work they find most challenging that really makes them feel alive.
If we simply do what we do because we CAN, we end up selling ourselves short. The truth is, you can do a lot of things. You can do far more than you realize. Don’t be confined by your current ability. If you’re naturally good with numbers but you secretly long to be a writer, push yourself to learn those skills. See how it feels to use a different part of yourself. Perhaps you’ll uncover a hidden talent. Or maybe the challenge will make you miss the ease and satisfaction of number crunching. Who knows?
My point is this: Don’t stay in a career that doesn’t make you happy just because you think it’s “the thing” you’re good at. Explore! Develop new skills, even if they feel completely foreign at first. If it’s something you really want to do, you’ll find a way to make it happen.
In my recent interview on Career Reality, I addressed a question that relates to this topic. The person felt she was struggling too much in her career. Though she enjoyed it, she found that people around her were exceling with greater ease. The career choice was not a natural fit for her, but she wanted to make it work.
My advice was not to give up. She may have to work twice as hard to get half as far, but if it’s the right thing for her, it’s worth it. Of course, only she can make that decision. And, as the host of the show pointed out, it could be helpful to do some assessments to see if there’s something that IS a natural fit that she hasn’t tapped into yet.
I suppose my ultimate advice is this: Forget CAN and CAN’T, SHOULD and SHOULDN’T. What do you WANT?