One of the toughest things when it comes to getting ahead in your career is asking for advice. It often seems that when you really want to get someone's opinion about something, what you end up with are answers to questions you weren't really asking and very little actual, usable information. Knowing how to ask for advice is important, especially when you are networking and looking for a job. You may really want to get input from someone you view as an expert in your field or from someone who may be able to help you in your job search.
There are a few reasons why this happens and understanding them makes it easy to ask for the advice you need.
Here's how to do it:
First, you have to know what you're really asking - Before you can ask someone for advice about a problem or situation, you have to have a clear understanding of what you are trying to find out. This part is tricky. It's tempting to go into a long explanation and give loads of information that doesn't really matter. This overwhelms the listener and makes it harder for them to understand the question. Instead, get your question down to just a few sentences and keep it to the point. The person you are asking will appreciate it and will be much more likely to give you the information you were looking for.
Offer something in return - If you are asking another professional for career advice or asking them to give you pointers, always offer something in return. If you want someone to look over your resume and give you constructive criticism, offer to take them to lunch or send them some cookies. Whatever you are able to do, offer that in exchange. Not only does it show that you respect them as a professional and appreciate the time they are taking to help you, it helps build a closer relationship and makes them think more highly of you as a fellow professional. This doesn't mean that you should offer to pay them, but professional courtesy is still "scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.".
Give them a some control - Don't just email someone and tell them that you have a favor to ask or want to set up a meeting without giving them some idea of what it is that you want. I know it might be easier to explain things in person or on the phone, but when you don't give them any control, they will most likely just say no. For example, if I were to get an email from someone I don't know that well asking me to give them a call, I would be much less likely to pick up the phone than if they asked me to call them at a convenient time because they wanted to get my opinion on a problem they were having at work. When you only give someone a "yes" or "no" option, they'll often pick the "no", so do it on their terms.
Getting professional advice can be a challenge, but keeping these tips in mind, you should be able to navigate the social minefield more effectively.