Journalists are used to asking questions.
I can interview others like a pro. I love unearthing a story and learning about the lives of others. During my work as a reporter, I had no trouble asking questions and seeking help if it would produce a solid, well-crafted news story.
However, when it comes to asking for personal advice, I freeze.
- I think the person might be busy, or that I am bothering them.
- I don’t want to appear incompetent or ask a “dumb question”.
- I don’t know I need help.
- I think I can figure it out on my own.
- I can just Google it.
And I’m not alone. When I searched for further information on the subject, I found a whole host of writers and researchers addressing this same issue. (Here is a good “how-to ask for help” article.)
This got me thinking. Why do we sometimes fail to ask the right questions—and ask for help—when it matters most to us? When it comes to furthering our careers, education, goals or personal happiness why do we hesitate?
I have no problem saying to someone: “I really like your shirt! Where did you get it?”
Why, then, is this so hard: “I really like your job. Can you give me advice on how to get there?”
Being a great advice seeker takes practice. Ask questions and you will find that people are more than happy to offer their words of advice. It’s not about knowing everything, but knowing how to find the answers.
You must admit when someone else has more knowledge than you. To put it bluntly: it’s stupid to pretend you know things you don’t. Let others help.
Use your resources
Since realizing this “weakness” of mine, I have been making a conscious effort to reach out and seek the advice of others. In my quest, I have compiled a list:
- See your adviser for resume help and job-hunting tips.
- Find the person with your dream job. Ask them the steps they took to get there.
- Set up informational interviews with companies you would like to work for.
- Request recommendations on LinkedIn.
- Get to know your professors. Stay after class or visit office hours. Ask thoughtful questions. Demonstrate interest. Your professors are very well-networked people and love to see their students succeed. Feed off their knowledge.
- Find out which student or professional organizations you should join. Be active in them.
- If you are job searching, tell people in your networks. Ask them if they hear of anything that suits you. If people don’t know you are looking, they can’t help.
Why you should ask for help
Just like a well-written news story, you need to know who to ask, what to ask, and how all the pieces fit together. If you learn how to do this, you will not only get the answers you need to enhance your own personal brand, but you will cultivate and strengthen your connections with others. By asking for others’ advice, you are demonstrating a certain level of trust in their word. Trust fosters relationships.
So in the spirit of my own advice, I am asking for your thoughts. In the comments section, I’d like to know: Have you ever failed to ask for advice when you needed it? What are some reasons? How do you overcome that?
Cassie Holman is a May 2009 University of Wisconsin-Madison Ag Journalism graduate. Although written journalism called her first, Cassie recently unfolded her passion for public relations during her short stint as a PR consultant for a Madison, Wis. area non-profit. She wrapped up an editorial internship in August and is now looking to dive into the professional field of public relations. Cassie’s interest and curiosity with social media tools are continually expanding, as she connects with fascinating individuals and ideas daily. Find her on Twitter, BrazenCareerist, and LinkedIn.