Even capable, career-driven people need a leg up from time to time. Whether it's job advice from a former manager, a couple of industry tips from a colleague, or a pep talk from a friend, feedback and encouragement are crucial stepping stones to navigating to where you want to be in your career. There are a couple of tricks to asking for guidance, though, to ensure that you obtain the information you need and that you still come across as the polished and poised person that you are.
Provide some concise context.
Being asked for advice in a vacuum can be a frustrating experience for any adviser. Sure, she might know your current company and job title, but you shouldn't assume that she knows much more than that. Take a moment to frame up your situation and the problem you face. Briefly state your goal and the ways in which you have tried to achieve it. Providing a little context will help to steer her toward the subject matter you wish to cover and will guarantee that the conversation won't take more valuable time than it needs to.
Ask specific questions.
Even if you set up a contextual framework for your conundrum, the flow of the advice won't begin until you ask a question. Instead of posing a sweeping query like, "What advice do you have for me?" drill down to questions that get at the particulars of your circumstance such as, "What facets of my career should I work on to make myself more appealing for a promotion?" or, "How did you overcome setbacks to your career advancement?" Crafting questions specific to your situation will get you the guidance you need by providing your adviser direction on where you need help most.
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Don't ask for proprietary information or trade secrets.
A request for work advice is just that: advice. You have reached out to your contact because you think she can provide an opinion on how you should handle a certain situation, but she can't tell you how to do your job. And it's not appropriate for you to think that she will hand over her own company's secrets to give you an advantage.
Rather than requesting data you know is proprietary like revenue numbers, budgets, or salaries, ask her what you should research to get started on your own project. Even if she simply points you to resources that she used to help develop her company's strategies, you will be on the right track with just a little legwork. If your adviser tells you she's not comfortable divulging something, don't press her on it. You're looking to gain some meaningful insights into your own job, not get her in trouble at hers.
Show your appreciation.
If you ask for advice over lunch or coffee, pick up the tab. And always send a thank you note after your talk with a mention of how your contact's advice helped you with your work. You may want her help again, so be polite and show your gratitude so that her door always remains open.