A couple of points to bear in mind when reaching out to professionals and experts for guidance. Make a list of questions. What do you need? Do you have a situation or a dilemma that you need perspective or advice on? Are you looking for references? Do you want information about a particular industry? Prepare your questions in advance so you make the most of the interaction.
- Be clear about why you are reaching out to someone and what you are expecting from them. This helps to optimise the conversation instead of keeping it at a generic level.
- What propelled you to reach out? Stay focused on the reason you made contact but also take the lead from the mentor. He or she may want to get to know and understand you a little before offering any guidance or counsel. Alternatively, they may be hard pressed for time or pre-occupied. Don’t take it personally.
- Share a little background about yourself, what you are interested in and why? Don’t be apologetic about taking up someone’s time. You have been invited to build a dialogue. The mentor desires to be helpful but can only do so if you are clear about what you are seeking.
- Show your passion and conviction. You want to inspire the professional to see themselves in you. Once they have tuned into their early days, they will tap into their experiences and share more personal and anecdotal information. It will give you a wealth of insights.
- Learn to read between the lines. Sometimes the unspoken has more wealth of meaning than the obvious.
- No one else can address your fears or your doubts other than yourself. The mentors can only offer advice.
- Do not request for a meeting and expect a job offer. Life is not that simple nor is it a film. Your hidden agenda may not be as opaque and ambiguous as you think. Years of working with people and building a circle of influence makes them perceptive and astute.
- Do not get over familiar and aggressive about seeking recommendations, asking people to read your business plans, pitches or scripts. Be respectful.
- Be punctual and don’t over stay your welcome.
- You may come across successful and influential experts who may not live up to your image of them. That is also a learning.
Asking people for advice can sometimes help put things in perspective but it can never be a solution to whatever problem you are grappling with. Ultimately, the choices and decisions you make are your own but it is always good to know that others have walked a similar path and they are still alive and well to share their learning!