Be Clear In Your Head Before You Open Your Mouth

It is a running joke in my family that I am terrible about asking for help.  I hate it, absolutely hate it.  I had an amazing father that instilled in me that I could do pretty much anything I wanted to do on my own with my own little two hands and when I put my mind to it.  This of course came back to bite him in the butt a couple of times – but the lesson stuck a little too well at times.

It’s a thing with me and it is something that I actively work on – ok, I try at least.  I can’t tell you the number of times that my son has given the whole eye-rolling-sigh-at-his-mother-because-she’s-being-stubborn thing; like walking in on me climbing up on the countertops to reach the top shelf of the cabinet.  I’ve five foot – cut me some slack.  Every time the conversation goes like this:

Me: “Umph” – that’s the noise I make when I climb up on the counter

Son: “What are you doing?” – along with a sigh

Me: “Just getting something out of the cabinet.”

Son: “Why didn’t you ask me to get it?” along with an eyeroll

Me: “Because I can do it.”

Son: “You’re going to hurt yourself” along with sigh and eyeroll

Me: “No I’m not! – Umph” the sound of me getting down from the counter

Son: “I’m right here, why didn’t you just ask me?”

Me: “Because I can do it myself!”

I really hope I never do hurt myself climbing up and down off counters because he would never let me hear the end of it – but the point is he is there and not only fully capable of helping but offering to do so….and yet I still don’t ask.

Professionally I learned to stop climbing on counters and ask for help.  The asking was not the hardest part – it was knowing what I was asking for that was the killer.

So many times people want to ask for help in job searching or building business but they have the critical steps mixed up.  Most people think it is:

Step One: Open mouth

Step Two: Ask for help


The successful strategy is:

Step One: Figure out what you want and need

Step Two: Open mouth

I do my fair share of networking and I normally try to find out as much as I can about the other person that I am talking to at that moment.  Some typical questions I might ask after finding out who they are and what they do are: “Do you specialize in any certain markets?” or “Who are your best clients” or “Who would you like to be connected to?”

If you cannot clarify these things then I cannot help you.  I need direction, I need a point of clarity, I need for you to tell me exactly what you need and how I can help you.  It is ok – do not think that you are being pushy or self-centered.  Networking is about building connections that result in relationships.

Now sometimes you may attend a networking event, formal or informal, and you may not be talking to someone as nice as me who asks you what you need and you find that you need to ask for yourself.  No worries.  Again, that’s what it is all about.

But before you ask for help you better be able to explain it as you would to a six year old.  The clearer you can be the more I can help you.

For example if I told you that I wanted to meet people who work for colleges and universities this would leave you lost in a sea of academia.  It is too vague, leaves too much ground uncovered.  Do I mean advisors, teachers, students, or the cleaning crew?

It is not your job to assume.  It is my job to clarify in order that you have to do as little thinking as possible.  The less thinking you have to do the more successful I will be in getting the connection.

Let’s go back to my college/university example.  If I had said the above statement to you I doubt you would be able to come up with an immediate connection; and if you did there is a pretty low probability that it would be beneficial for me.  Why?  Because I gave you no parameters.  It is like shooting a fly in the dark.

Now, let’s say that instead I told you that I was looking to meet administrators or people who are responsible for programs at colleges and universities that I can partner with to facilitate resume classes for upcoming graduates.

Well looky there – all the information you need.  I have narrowed down the sea to a small, targeted stream and I have turned on the light to tell you why I want to meet them.  Tada!

Given this information you may have a name that immediately pops in your head and would be a good connection for me.  You can either give me that information at the time or if you want to go back to your office to make an introduction I have a much stronger reason and memory trigger to contact you to facilitate that connection.

Now, enough about me, what about you?  If you are looking for a job be sure to give me some parameters that help me keep you in mind.  Telling me you are looking for a job does absolutely nothing for me.  It makes you forgettable.  Sorry, but it does because quite frankly almost everyone knows someone who is looking for a job.  You get lost in the minutia of job seekers.

However, if you are a project manager who is looking to get back into a specific industry and with a company of a certain size then by all means give me this information.  You do two things: make it very clear to me what you are looking for and imbed key words in my brain which I will associate with you.  Next week if I happen to talk to a business associate in that industry your name will more likely pop into my head because you were clear and those key words.  I have inadvertently become a member of your personal sales force.

The more clear you are in your communication the more others can help you.  Some people have the thought that people don’t want to help.  What I find is that they actually do what to help, but they don’t know how because you have sent them adrift in the middle of an ocean without any direction.

Be clear and you can build an amazing personal sales force.

Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Career Coach-Strategist

Certified Professional Resume Writer

Career Polish, Inc.

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