How to effectively ask for help

April 15, 2010 at 11:24 am Leave a comment

Career experts often advise that to successfully land a good job, you must be able to ask people you hardly know to help you open doors. Yet many job seekers find that intimidating — it’s hard enough to ask for “favors” from friends and former colleagues, let alone people you may have never met before and may not see again in the future.

And even when you get over the possible embarrassment and swallow your pride to ask for help, you may wonder if you’re doing it the right way. So I sought some help myself (sorry, couldn’t resist that!) from experts on the most effective ways to seek help in a job hunt. Here is some of their advice:

*Don’t presume that people won’t help you — go in thinking that they will. As Tom Dezell, a workforce expert with the Professional Outplacement Assistance Center in Maryland says,  “avoid the assumed no.” (See March 25 post, “J0b-hunting advice for professionals from a pro.”) Practice your “ask” speech beforehand (on the phone if you’re going to be doing so on the phone, in front of a mirror if you’ll be meeting in person) and aim to be confident, friendly and specific. Keep your request brief and to the point, and always offer sincere thanks to the person — even if they say they can’t really help much. Thank them for their time if nothing else. You want them to remember you well in the future.

*It’s better to give than to receive. Even if you haven’t been much of a giver in the past, you can change that starting right now. Your network — and the contacts you make through your network — will be much more effective if people don’t perceive you as someone who gets in touch only when you need something. Invest in your network on a regular basis and it will be in much better shape for you when you need to tap it. Help friends and former colleagues  not only with job leads, but sources, ideas and general life support (send along birthday wishes on Facebook, congratulate them in the office on important life events, send a sympathy card when they lose a loved one). These kinds of things mean a lot, and if you give on a regular basis, contacts will be much more likely to offer you help when you ask. And even when you’re asking for help, try to give something in return in the conversation — praise a recent piece they’ve written, ask about a friend you have in common or offer some useful advice. Try, whenever possible, to make it not just about you. Everyone can get good at this — and if you haven’t been good about it in the past, you can change that.

*Watch how you ask. Polite, conversational, funny, warm requests will be greeted much better than “I need this now” types of communication. (Remember, nearly everyone does “triage” on their email cues these days and the messages in which the sender sounds demanding are likely to go to the bottom of the “to-be-returned” pile.) Email (and text messages) are atonal. Try to give written communication a warm and friendly tone — especially if you haven’t been in touch with the person before or in a while. If they’ve never heard from you before, give them clues about who you are in the subject line (“Jodi’s friend Bill would like to be in touch”). It’s better to have a contact make the online introduction, but if they don’t, always introduce yourself in an email before asking for something. And if you haven’t been in touch in a while, make sure you catch up a bit before seeking help. If you know someone, even slightly, it’s better to send an email asking if you could set up a time to call them to request help. Things are friendlier on the phone and you want to try to get their focused attention — so setting up something usually works best. And if you want them to make an introduction, ask them that specifically. For instance, rather than saying, “I’d really like to get my resume to XYZ Broadcasting, and I haven’t been able to get a foot in the door. Can you help me?” It’s better, after briefly discussing your broadcasting background and your desire for a producer job, “Our mutual friend Sue told me you’re revered over at XYZ Broadcasting for the work you did there in your last job. I’d love to be able to meet with Blah Blah, who I hear is the hiring manager on a production opening, for which I think I’d be a good fit. Would you mind helping me come up with a few strategies for getting my resume in his hands?” By giving someone specific ideas on how to help you, you’re much more likely to get what you want.

*If the answer is no or they can’t help you right then, be fine with that. Always thank them politely. (And don’t take a “no” as a personal affront — they are probably just too busy right now to help.)  But seek to keep the door open. Try again — if they didn’t answer, maybe they just blew past your email request in a clogged in-box. If they seem busy or distracted on the phone, see if you can set up a time where they may be more open to helping. And when someone has helped you, even in a small way, send a nice note (email is fine) and let them know you’d be happy to help THEM in the future. For folks who have really gone out of their way to help you (especially if such help leads you to land a job), a written note with a small token of your appreciation — such as a little gift card to Starbucks or the bagel shop around the corner — will help them remember you well, and make them more likely to offer help in the future.

*More good news for a dcworks supporter — Congratulations to Beth Belton, who left Kiplinger at the end of January as senior editor for economics, and has quickly landed as VP for communications at Yoga Alliance. Beth has already started her job with the group, a nonprofit in Arlington dedicated to education and support for yoga in the United States.

When I asked her for some tips on how she transitioned from a journalism job to a communications job — and so quickly — Beth responded with the following:  “There are jobs out there and if the mantra in real estate is location, location, location, which it is, then the mantra for job seekers is networking, networking, networking.” She continued, “I found out about most openings by having lunches, coffees or phone conversations with people who I’d worked with in the past or in some other capacity. In the end, I actually cold-called very few people and sent out very few resumes to people who I didn’t already know.”

That’s good advice! As noted here many times, decide what organizations you want to approach, then find people you know with an “in” there and then ask them to get your resume in the right hands.

Congratulations and much success in her new position to Beth!

*Meanwhile, some grim news, not that we didn’t already suspect this was the case, but a new ASNE survey points out as newsrooms were wielding the job ax last year, they eliminated the positions of black journalists and supervisors at a higher rate than ever before. NABJ and other groups are working to do something about this, but it’s very frightening for the future of the profession:

Newsrooms Continue to Cut Black Journalists From Their Ranks | Black Politics on the Web

*There are plenty of leads to pursue on this spring day including:

*The Benenson Strategy Group (BSG), a market research firm specializing in national Democratic polling and strategic corporate research, has an opening in its D.C. office for a vice president to coordinate all aspects of the research process:

Vice President/Senior Associate
Benenson Strategy Group – Washington, DC
oral and written communication skills, and has the… Strong communication and relationship building skills. • Solid written and verbal communication skills…
From Democratic GAIN

*The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in D.C. is looking for an executive writer:

Executive Writer
U.S. Chamber of Commerce – Washington, DC
POSITION OVERVIEW: Develop strategic executive communications to include speeches and briefings primarily for the president and CEO and other executives. Write…

*And here’s today’s internship lead — Capital Partners for Education in D.C. is looking for a development intern who will work on fund-raising, marketing, communications and special events:
Development Internship
Capital Partners for Education – Washington, DC
to fundraising, donor stewardship, marketing, communications and special events. Responsibilities include… producing all CPE communication materials including…

*With a hat tip to (for these next few leads — and radio openings are rare these days so please pass along to those you know with radio skills), the Washington Post is looking for those who have reporting and on-air experience to provide morning and evening updates and pre-taped weekend reports:

Can you make money news interesting and understandable on-air and online? We’re looking for people who have reporting and on-air experience to provide morning and evening updates and pre-taped weekend reports. E-mail resume and audio samples to

*Telemedia Broadcasting in nearby Fredericksburg, Va., has an opening for an on-air radio personality:

Rare PM-Drive on-air position available at Telemedia Broadcasting Inc. in Fredericksburg, Va. Successful applicant must be an experienced on air personality as well as an excellent on-stage and on-site entertainer. Additional experience needed for website hosting, graphic design and promotional pieces. Knowledge of Classic Hits music is a must. Salary in the low $30’s, plus talent fees. Health, Dental, Life Insurance available with company assistance. Relocation to market is a must. Send T&R to EOE

*And to wrap up today’s leads,  the National Association of Broadcasters in D.C. is looking for a director of radio services:

DIRECTOR RADIO SERVICES, National Association of Broadcasters. Will be responsible for the management of radio awards programs including NAB Crystal Radio Awards, NAB Marconi Radio Awards, the National Radio Award, and the HD Radio Award. Please visit our Web site for a full listing about this exciting opportunity: Send cover letter with salary range and resume to with “Director Radio Services” in the subject line.

Happy hunting!



Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

When you need a C.V. rather than a resume Keeping anxiety and fear at bay during a job hunt

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