All too often, people make requests for your time or expertise that just aren’t feasible. It’s why Muse Founder and COO Alex Cavoulacos wrote a helpful article with advice for declining an email introduction you never agreed to.
Once you’ve been on the receiving end—feeling uncomfortable with an ask to connect a distant contact with the most impressive person in your network, or dreading a call for someone to pick your brain when you don’t have the time—you become more sensitive to not wanting to put others in a similar position.
And that’s a good thing, because if you’re extra thoughtful, they’ll notice and be more inclined to help you when they can. (Not only that, but if you always give other people an out, it’s less awkward when you decline a request from them that doesn’t make sense on your end.)
So, here are three templates to ask for a favor—in a way that lets the other person say “no” and still save face:
1. If You’d Like an Introduction
One reason to grow your network is that when you build a relationship with someone, his contacts (theoretically) become your second-degree connections. However, as we all know, just because you once worked with someone or follow each other on social sites, it doesn’t mean you’re close enough to intro him or her to new people. So, send a note like this:
Dear [Contact Name],
I noticed [impressive person’s name] is in my second-degree network and you’re the common link! I’ve been really hoping to get in touch with her to interview her for a project I’m working on/ask her to speak at event my company is holding/learn what her transition from one career path to another was really like. Would you be able to put the two of us in touch? If not, I totally understand.
This message increases the likelihood you’ll get a response for three reasons. First, it’s short and to the point. Second, it shares why you’d like to connect with the person in question (because your contact may want to check with her first). Third, it gives the other person a comfortable way to decline if she can’t—or doesn’t want to—make the intro.
2. If You’d Like a Job Referral
It’s true: A personal referral increases the likelihood you’ll get hired for a job. But, it’s also kind of a huge ask. You’re asking someone to put his work reputation on the line to vouch for you. And if, let’s say, you guys are friends but he’s never actually worked with you, he might not be comfortable saying yes. So, ask in a way that informs his decision—and lets him say no without risking your friendship:
Dear [Contact Name],
I see there’s an opening for a senior management role at [your company]. As you may know, I’ve worked in management for over five years at [my company], where I oversee a team of 12 people. In fact, in my time here, my team has doubled in size and scope, beating our goals by an average of [amount] each quarter.
I mention all of this, because I’m really excited about the work you’re doing at your company, especially [recent initiative], and I’d love to be a part of it. Do you know anything about this opening, and if so, would it be possible for you to refer me to the appropriate person to speak with about the position? If not, I definitely understand, and would appreciate any pointers you might have about applying to your company.
Thank you so much for all of your help.
This email hits on several points. First, you’re sharing why you’re qualified for the role, so your contact doesn’t have to do any additional legwork. Second, you’re showing you’re up to speed on what’s going on at her company (and that this isn’t a mass email). Third, you’re providing her with multiple ways to help you, so she can choose what works best for her.
Maybe she’ll be in touch to forward your resume to HR, or maybe she knows the position is going to be filled internally and she can nudge you in another direction. When you ask for “any pointers,” you avoid backing her into a corner—and you set yourself up to get the very best advice (even if you don’t know what that is).
3. If You’d Like (Free) Advice
You probably know that asking a distant contact to grab coffee to “pick his brain” is an often-declined request. If he’s too busy to catch up with close friends, it’s unlikely he’ll drop everything to answer your questions for 45 minutes. So, when you make this ask, be sure to provide options that could accommodate almost any schedule:
Dear [Contact Name],
I’ve been following your LinkedIn updates and notice that you’ve been posting a ton of articles. I’m definitely interested in raising awareness about my own brand and have been wondering if this approach would make sense for me, too. Might you have 15 minutes to chat over the phone? If not, would it be possible for me to send you a couple of questions over email. Or perhaps you could share any resources with me that you’ve found to be particularly helpful.
I really appreciate your time and guidance.
All the best,
First things first, if you wouldn’t meet with her for coffee socially, knock that option off the list and instead jump straight to asking the person to hop on a phone call. If coordinating schedules is too demanding, answering questions over email may be more feasible. And don’t discount her pointing you to a helpful resource. It may be that industry newsletter or job board she swears by is even more valuable than you would’ve guessed.
It can be intimidating to ask for a favor—and equally uncomfortable to turn someone down if you’re not really in a position to help. So, give your contact the benefit of the doubt by building in an out, and always include a line of thanks.