How to ask for advice

As I progress in my career, I get more and more requests for advice.  People that helped me ask that I return the favor, colleagues or friends want to learn from a step I took or, commonly, people want to get a job at Google.

The preparation I see for these meetings varies widely.  After reflecting on the meetings I’ve had plus discussing “the advice session” with a few colleagues and mentors, I wanted to offer some best practices for preparing for any advice asking meeting you might attend.

  • Even before the meeting, let the person you want advice from know why you need to speak with them specifically.
    • For example: I see you made the decision not to go to venture capital full time after doing an internship at VC.  I need to make a similar career decision in the next few months, so I wanted to understand what factors you considered in making that call.
  • Once you secure the meeting, tactfully, and ahead of time, let them know what you want to cover to make the session a success.  Show you did at least some research before hand. 
    •  For example: I am hoping to understand the pros and cons you considered when deciding to leave tech for business school.  I read you started Google Fiber before business school on your blog.  Would you be willing to talk me through why you still felt like it was worth leaving Google for business school after launching Fiber?
  • During the meeting, don’t linger on small talk.
    • I often encounter situations where the advice seeker and I get twenty minutes into a meeting and I still can’t tell why he or she wants to talk to me.  We talk about the weather, current events, our weekends, etc.  Then, with five or ten minutes to go, the advice seeker asks about some serious life decision I made and why I made it, which is impossible to answer and get to my next meeting on time.
    • You need to balance acting politely and getting to the point.  Build rapport with about five minutes of background on yourself or the situation and then ask your hard questions.  Most likely, the person you meet with wants to use their time to help you not discuss the weather.
  • Limit asking about what I do.  Instead focus on how I can help you.
    • For example: If you want a job at Google and so you seek me out for advice, learning about what I do is only relevant if we have a very similar background and you’re my level.  What will help you is asking something like “I want to work at Google in marketing since given my experience I am the most likely to land a role there.  Would you let me know, from the resume I sent you earlier, which groups you think I should apply to and if I need to tweak my resume at all to make myself more appealing?”

I hope these tactics help you get more of what you want from the advice you seek.

How to ask for advice

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