Busy People

How to Ask for Help From Busy People

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell 

Q: I want to reach out to past supervisors and colleagues who might be able to help me in my job search, but these are really busy people. How can I get their help without taking up too much of their time?

A: You’re right. It’s easy to feel like you’re intruding on a former manager or someone you met at a networking event to ask for a job lead or a reference. And it’s frustrating when you don’t get a call back or a response to your email, but don’t give up. Most jobs these days are found through networking, so your contacts are highly valuable to your successful job transition.

Here are some tips to help you connect:

Get to the point quickly. If you leave a voice mail or send an email, quickly remind the person how you know each other and what you want from them. Here’s a sample: “Hi, it’s Barbara Mitchell. We met at the chamber meeting last Thursday, and we talked about my background as a business writer. I’m following up to see if we could meet soon for no more than 30 minutes so you can tell me more about your organization’s needs for writers. Would Thursday at 10 a.m. work for you? If not, please suggest alternative dates and times. My phone number is … and my email is…  Thanks so much.”

Wait a week and if you haven’t heard back, try a different approach. If you initially left a voice mail, try email. Start by saying that you know they’re busy and you left a voice mail previously, but you’re really interested in hearing from them.

When you get the meeting or return call, be prepared. Have specific questions ready to ask, and honor the time limit you set.

Keep trying, but acknowledge your repeated attempts. There is no magic number of times to try to connect, but something that’s worked for me, after several tries, is to send an email with the subject line, “Don’t mean to be a pest, but…” I almost always get a response to that message.

When you get the meeting or return call, be prepared. Have specific questions ready to ask, and honor the time limit you set.

Don’t ask for a job, but do ask for help. Ask whether the person knows anyone else you might be able to talk with or whether he or she has any ideas to help you land your next job. Listen carefully, since you know how valuable the person’s time is.

Say thank you. Send a hand-written note or at least an email to express your gratitude for the person’s time and help.

This careful approach doesn’t always work, but it will increase the likelihood that you’ll get a response and some helpful advice. Good luck!

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR, The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook and the latest book—The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].

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