Whether you are asking for a job, for an interview, for an investment, for a personal loan, for free advertisement, or for a shout-out from somebody, how you ask is so important. You are the one asking for the opportunity, which means the other person has something you want, and that person also has all the power not to give it to you. So, ultimately, you shouldn’t focus on your pride or how much you feel entitled to something—you should focus on how you make the person who has the thing you want feel. No matter how qualified or deserving you are, you never know what agenda the other person has. You don’t even know what constitutes “qualified” in their eyes. You never know how many other people to whom they owe a favor, who would likely get this thing you want first. So, tread…not lightly but…consciously. Here are the right and wrong ways to ask for an opportunity.
Wrong: Pointing out their weakness
“I noticed your company struggles with this and I can help.” Immediately, the person is turned off because the first thing you did was criticize him or her. It also feels here as if you are selling something and that’s not honest—you’re asking for something.
Right: Pointing out their strong points
Flattery will get you everywhere. The first things you should mention to someone from whom you want something are her strengths, or the strengths of her organization. It shows you’ve done your research and respect the person or company. Then, talk about how your strengths would compliment their strengths.
Wrong: Overdoing it on credits
Yes, you have worked for 30 brand name, well-known companies or people. But listing those off in a bundle overwhelms people. It provides them lots of information but, within it, they can’t spot the useful information.
Right: Mentioning pertinent credits
It’s better to just mention a handful of credits or experiences that pertain directly to the opportunity you want. Listing just a few buys you the space and time to speak more in detail about what you did in those positions.
Wrong: Giving them reasons to say no
In an attempt to seem humble, some people start an email with, “I know I’m way under-qualified and you’d probably prefer someone who has done X, Y, or Z, but just figured I’d try…” Why would you give them reasons to say no, before even asking for what you want?
Right: Acknowledging it is a big opportunity
You can remain humble, without talking badly about yourself. Acknowledge this would be a big opportunity and it would certainly be them doing you the favor, but don’t talk about reasons why you wouldn’t be right for that favor. Always focus on your positive attributes.
Every time you reach out to anyone, try to remember just how many other people may reach out to them, every day, wanting the same thing. Simply cold-calling (or emailing) saying what you want and why you’re qualified puts you at the bottom of a big pile.
Right: Mentioning a known and liked acquaintance
Did someone give you a referral? Did someone the person you’re emailing really likes give you this referral? Can you tell a quick anecdote about how you met this referral and what you talked about? These little touches show the person who has the thing you want that you’re legitimate.
Wrong: Trying too many times
If you reach out once and hear nothing, it’s okay to follow up in two to three weeks—perhaps your message went to their spam folder or they meant to respond and forgot to. But, beyond that, do not send email after email every few days. No matter how great the content of your email is, the very fact that you’re harassing this person will make them not open your email.
Right: Wait, and ask for feedback
If someone tells you that you simply won’t be getting the thing you want, rather than trying over and over again, ask for feedback. Ask what would make you more qualified. They’ll appreciate this, and possibly consider you for a different opportunity in the future.
Wrong: A misleading subject line
Everybody’s always looking for ways to get people to open their emails. An intriguing subject line is important. But don’t trick the recipient. Don’t put something in the subject line that has nothing to do with the content. Nobody appreciates being tricked.
Right: A funny subject line
When appropriate, make the subject line funny. Something short and sweet, that is a real indicator of what’s inside the email, will go a long way. The recipient probably gets tons of very similar messages every day so starting with a laugh is appreciated.
Wrong: Too much info at once
Once you have someone’s attention, you want to give them all the information you possibly can to entice them. So you might just overload the person with information about you and why you’re qualified for the thing you want.
Right: Give info, when asked
Overloading someone with info is a sure-fire way to lose them. Your first correspondence should be informative, but short. You should send enough to open the dialogue. If the person is warm to the idea of hearing more, then you can provide additional information.
Takeaway: what if you were the one in power?
When in doubt, just ask yourself how you’d feel if you were the person on the other end of this email or phone call. How do you like to be approached, when people want something from you? You’d be surprised how rarely people ask themselves this, when approaching somebody else about an opportunity.