September 12, 2008
The right way to pick someone's brain
With job layoffs happening faster than you can say "economic meltdown," there's a decent chance many of us will find ourselves looking to change not just jobs but career paths before the decade's out. Given all the potential career changers among us, I'd like to address that age-old business concept known as "picking someone's brain."
Like many who've been in their current profession for 5 to 15 years, I'm often contacted by new writers, authors, and freelancers looking for advice on How I Did It. And like many who've been in their current profession a while, I can tell you there's a right way and a wrong way to contact a professional you admire to ask to pick their brain. Herewith, my top tips for a successful brain pick:
Make it convenient for them. I can't tell you how many people over the years have asked if they can pick my brain about freelancing and book publishing but want to know if I'll meet them around the corner from their house, in Columbia City, despite the fact that I live on the north end of the city. These are the people I've never met. I haven't even given them 10 minutes of my time on the phone. If they can't meet on my turf, timeline, or terms, it's not happening.
Come prepared. Spend at least 30 minutes online, reading up on your pickee -- and their chosen profession -- so you don't waste the time with questions you could have answered on your own. Think of specific details you'd like to know about their career ahead of time and write them down. "Did you find having an MBA helpful for getting a foot in the door as a product planner, or could you have just as easily done without?" is a valid question. "Tell me about being a product planner" is far too vague.
Take notes. Chances are you'll become excited, energized by all the good info your mentee is tossing your way. To make sure you don't lose any juicy tidbits -- especially the names of websites, books, and professional associations they mention -- bring a pad and paper. Don't be embarrassed about appearing studious.
Don't overstay your welcome. If your pickee says they only have 30 minutes to give you, make sure you've asked your last question at least five minutes before the meeting ends. Use your time wisely. And don't expect more than an hour of someone's time.
Offer something in return. Maybe you don't have any career suggestions or contacts that directly apply to their situation. But if they tell you they're looking for a good restaurant to take their in-laws to this weekend and you know just the place, don't hold back. At the very least, you should always pay for their coffee and croissant.
Follow up. Everyone loves a timely thank-you note -- as well as a mentee who remembers to follow through with that article, contact, or house sitter recommendation they told you about. Remember the manners your mama taught you.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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