Can you get me a job at your company, please?
Do you know the CEO—and can I talk to her?
Want to see my resume? It’s awesome, I swear.
These are the things we’d like to say to people when we’re networking, but for obvious reasons can’t.
So, the question always becomes, what can we ask?
I recently read Molly Beck’s book Reach Out: The Simple Strategy You Need to Expand Your Network and Increase Your Influence. And in it, she breaks down the art of networking into bite-sized steps—one of which talks about good versus bad favors.
The concept is simple: Some things you choose to ask your network are better than others. And this means the difference between someone wanting to help you out and someone wanting nothing to do with your request.
If you read the quotes above and cringed at the thought of saying them to someone you knew, you already know what a bad favor is.
So, what makes a good favor?
“The key to a great favor is to ask a particular, definable question whose answer cannot be found on Google and can be answered easily in a paragraph or so via email,” says Beck in the book.
Let’s break that down a bit more:
It Should Be Specific
Your ask should be tailored to the person and not super open-ended. Beck gives the example “Can I pick your brain?” as both being way too vague and asking too much of someone (and for free, mind you). You’re better off saying something like, “What advice do you have for someone who wants to break into finance like yourself?”
It Should Be Non-Googleable
Don’t ask someone a question that you can look up yourself. Beck uses “What open jobs does your company have?” as an example that you could easily search on your own time.
It Should Be Short
Many of your requests will be sent over email to someone who’s already pretty busy, Beck points out, so they should be able to answer it without spending hours crafting a response.
Now of course, if the person seems excited to chat with you, you can ask to meet in person. But, Beck suggests, “If and when people say yes, keep in mind that you are working around their schedule, not yours, and you should be traveling to go to a place that’s easy for them to get to. Additionally, when you do meet for coffee or even a meal, you should be paying for them.”
Finally, the author says, every favor should come with a gift. Because this person is going out of their way for you, you should do the same—meaning you should include at least two beneficial things in your initial reach-out. Now, before you worry that you have to send a fruit basket and a bottle of wine every time you ask someone to grab coffee, don’t. It can be as simple as a compliment, a book recommendation, or an introduction to someone you think they would benefit from knowing.
(But if they end up helping you out in a big way, you might want to send them one of these thank you items.)
After reading the book, I reached out to Beck to see if she had any favorite “asks” from her own career:
One of the most memorable favors I’ve ever gotten asked was when a reader of my blog emailed me to say that her friend was a big fan of my writing, and would I consider doing a birthday shout-out on the blog to her? It made my day that she and her friend thought so highly of my blog, and it was such a cool way to make someone feel special on their birthday. Of course I said yes. That super-unique favor opened up a great line of communication between all three of us, and I actually got together in-person with the woman whose birthday it was when she moved to New York years later!
Your request may be simpler (or, even more complicated) than this, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth asking. If you follow the guidelines above, you’ll make it that much easier for someone to say yes—and be excited about it, too.
Photo of person thinking courtesy of Westend61/Getty Images.
Previously an editor for The Muse, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. She’s written almost 500 articles for The Muse on anything from productivity tips to cover letters to bad bosses to cool career changers, many of which have been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Inc., CNBC's Make It, USA Today College, Lifehacker, Mashable, and more. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer and reader, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.More from this Author