Text from an email asking for job hunt advice

8 guidelines for asking someone for something

Whether it’s advice, a connection, a service, goods, recommendations, time, presence at an event, or financial support, people need things from others. It’s how we coexist and form societies and communities. And people are often very willing to give. But, how you ask matters both for immediate results and long-term implications.

Here are 8 considerations you should follow before asking anything of someone else:

  1. Do not obligate or guilt anybody. Give them the opportunity to say no or defer without consequence.
  2. Be clear in what you’re asking. Dancing around what you want leaves room for misunderstandings and frustration, and requires additional effort from the askee to read between the lines.
  3. No person should feel overburdened by your request. When’s the last time you asked them for something? Are you asking for more than is fair?
  4. Are you abusing a power dynamic? Work heirarchies, lived experience, and proximity are common ways that people are taken advantage of because someone doesn’t want to put in the work themselves. Make sure that you’re not crossing boundaries, and offer compensation especially if there is a power dynamic–visible or not–at play.
  5. What sort of reciprocity are you expecting? Will you be upset if it’s not provided? If so, how can you make your expectations known?
  6. What is the timeframe in which you would need your request completed? Are you allowing enough time for the person to rearrange their schedule or resources to follow through?
  7. Are there any unintended consequences that could come from your ask that affect you or others associated with you? Are these possibilities that you’re comfortable risking?
  8. And of course, be gracious. Say thank you (both during the ask and after any response). It’s never wrong and jeopardizes what people think of you if you don’t. Beyond a thank you, if you’re meeting up in person, offer to buy the coffee. And if it’s within your means, offer compensation for people’s time.

If you are the askee, you owe it to yourself to respond to the request honestly, and then to follow through on whatever you promise. You’re allowed to say no; you’re allowed to say yes on your terms; you’re allowed to do exactly as asked but set boundaries for future requests. But be authentic in your reply and follow-through.

I get asked for a lot of things on a daily basis. I do my best to be responsive. But, know that if you’re asking someone for something and you don’t get a response, it’s usually not personal. My inbox is a mess, I’m often running on empty, and there just aren’t enough hours in the day. If you don’t hear back, feel free to graciously follow up once with your request; it can be really helpful, and you’re more likely to get a positive response.

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