How to ask for career-advancing advice
I recently facilitated a brainstorming session for a corporate client. An employee from the business unit I was working with greeted me and accompanied me to the meeting room when I arrived. Hannah had graduated from college five years ago, and we chatted briefly about her degree and her role in the company while I prepared for the session. As she turned to leave, she hesitated. “Could I ask you a question? How did you get started as a management consultant?”
Brava to Hannah for taking a risk and creating a mentoring moment. Engaging in this type of exchange with a senior executive or business owner can seem intimidating. Sometimes, the subtle signals that you’d like to ask a question or two may not be noticed, or you may hesitate because you’re not sure how your questions will be received. You’ll never know unless you take the first step. The truth is that most executives and business owners are happy to offer guidance.
If you’ve ever thought of approaching a professional you admire for career or business guidance, here are a few tips for creating a mentoring moment.
Think of Mentoring as an Informal Interaction
Mentoring can take many forms. It doesn’t have to be a long-term or formal arrangement. Valuable mentoring can happen in a short conversation like the one I had with Hannah.
Ask for Permission
Seeking and gaining permission is an easy and courteous way to start a conversation. It’s as simple as the way Hannah approached me: “Can I ask you a question?” Adding the topic of your inquiry is a polite touch, as in “Could I ask you a question about your career?”
State Your Interest
Once you’ve asked for permission, be polite and direct about your interest. Here are a few examples:
- I’m curious about how you became interested in operations.
- I’m interested in exploring corporate law, and I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the options that are available.
- What advice would you suggest to someone who wants to start a company?
Keep the Conversation Brief
Be considerate of time and the situation. Approaching an executive or business owner before a meeting or at a networking event is good timing for a short exchange—its’ a mentoring moment, not a mentoring session. Ask one or two questions, then graciously wrap up the exchange.
Express Your Thanks
Show appreciation for the advice your momentary mentor has given to you. If you’re interested in having a longer conversation, you can add a question to your thanks, such as, “I appreciate your sharing your experience with me. As I explore these ideas further, may I contact you?”
Back to my conversation with Hannah: I gave her my business card and invited her to contact me. We recently met for a second conversation. A mentoring moment doesn’t require perfect conditions. You can create those moments for yourself.