Pronunciation: ˈfā-vər

1 a (1) : friendly regard shown toward another especially by a superior (2) : approving consideration or attention

3 a : gracious kindness; also : an act of such kindness

5 a : a special privilege or right granted or conceded

My cell phone rang yesterday in the middle of a client conference call. Didn’t recognize the number. Later I found a message on my voicemail. I offer it here as a learning opportunity for any young person who wants to start their career off on the right foot.

The woman who had called me was a recent graduate from a Michigan college. She has evidently moved to Seattle and is looking for help in determining her career path. Here’s what she said:

“Hi, my name is __________ and I stumbled upon your agency online. I just graduated from college in advertising in Michigan and I am newly moved to Seattle. I wanted to set up an informational meeting to kind of sit down with you and learn more about what your company does just for a little bit of research on what kind of agency I’d like to work at and what kind of department I would like to move into in the future. This would take fifteen to twenty minutes if you have it. So I would greatly appreciate you calling me on my cell phone which is ____ or emailing me at _____.”

I don’t want to sound like a mean-spirited jerk here, but I am amazed at how poorly she framed this opportunity. Was no business person, perhaps a parent, available to coach this young woman before she started creating her local reputation?

My first job was on the factory floor of an automotive plant. I learned very early that as a new graduate, you are inconsequential to most folks and in order to survive as you’re getting started, you need to foster relationships and ask a lot of favors. And that requires some basic relationship skills.

From that aspect, this call struck me as wrong on a million levels.

First of all, she opens by saying that she “stumbled” across my company online. So, basically, she didn’t seek me out and my business is no more special than any other. Not the way to kick off a request for help. A simple “I found your agency online and the more I read, the more I was really interested in what you do.” Lie to me if you have to.

Secondly, she’s moved to Seattle from Michigan. Great! If she had done her homework and done a simple Google search, she would have seen that I too am a Michigan transplant. With this data, she could have worked that angle and I might have been more predisposed to spend my valuable time trying to help a kid get started on their career. But she didn’t.

Third: there is no agency named Brand Dialogue anymore. A 2-second read of the About page would have told her that.

Fourth: she frames the conversation in terms of her needs. I was up until 3am this morning working on a client project, then had to jump on a client call at 8:30. Why would I spend time trying to help someone else get started when I don’t even have enough time for a full night’s sleep?

A better approach would have been to say, “I know you’re busy, I’m sure informational interviews are low on your priority list, but if you could find just a few minutes to talk to me, I’d be so appreciative. If not, I fully understand.”

Finally, she puts the onus on me to contact her. What exactly is my motivation again? Who’s the one asking for a favor again?

If you are looking for volunteers who will help you with your career, there are several things you must know.

  • If you’re new in town, you have a lot of work to do to build a network of business relationships that will help you survive.
  • If you need a favor but have no relationship with this person, you may want to try to start off a conversation recognizing that fact.
  • Assume the person you are wanting to talk to is insanely busy. Respect their time and don’t ask for any more than the initial request for a coffee or informational interview. Don’t ask them do the work of getting in touch with you.
  • Spend some of your own time to research the person you are contacting. Find out a little bit about them before you call. If there is an opportunity for a more relevant connection (e.g., you’re both transplants), then speak to that.
  • Most importantly, and I say this with love, you are asking for a favor. You are not entitled to anyone’s time…particularly if we’re no more special than the next guy on the list. If you want a favor, act like you’re asking a favor, not like you expect a phone call back.

These are basic business relationship skills that should be taught in every single business school in this country. They’re also skills that any parent should teach their child. It’s also the responsibility of the kid to LISTEN. Their parents may know a thing or two about the work world.

And that concludes your informational interview, miss.  I’m getting back to paying client work now.

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