Category: Career Etiquette


Why “Can I Pick Your Brain?” Is the Wrong Approach

I was sitting at my desk in my office when the email showed up in my inbox. It was another request for an informational interview. (If you don’t know what an informational interview is, Google it.)

But this request was different from all the others. It wasn’t the usual lame offer to treat me to lunch or coffee.

As much as I really want to accommodate each request since I’m such a big believer in informational interviewing, I can’t say yes to every request. I don’t always have the time to take away from my clients to drive out in Nashville traffic for a meeting and drive back.

So what was different about the request that caught my eye?

This person offered to BRING ME my favorite hot beverage. It was evident she wasn’t just thinking about herself and what she wanted. Instead, she was taking my time into consideration (along with my hot beverage preference).

She showed up at my office with a hot green tea. I loved that she actually asked me what I like instead of assuming I’m a coffee drinker, because I’m not.

I also loved that she didn’t ask the question, “Can I pick your brain?” Why? Because when I worked in the music industry I quickly learned anytime someone asked me that question it was code for, “Can I have some free advice?”

“Can I pick your brain?” always puts me on guard.

I went on to have a great meeting with this bright and considerate young woman. A month later I hired her as my assistant.

This exchange occurred several years ago, but I tell this story all the time to my clients so they understand the importance of practicing proper etiquette when asking for an informational interview.

(Want to learn proper networking etiquette? Check out my on-demand program The Secret To Successful Networking: How to Do It Naturally and Effectively.)

A better approach

If you’ve inadvertently made the gaff of asking, “Can I pick your brain?” don’t worry. There are several ways to correct your approach.

And if you’re someone who gets the “Can I pick your brain?” question frequently, there are several ways you can respond appropriately, especially if you have to say, “no.”

It’s all listed below in an article written by Darrah Brustein, author, speaker, and consultant (originally published at www.forbes.com). Darrah was nice enough to allow me to re-publish her article here on the paNASH blog.

It’s a must-read for anyone who’s trying to expand their network (which should be everyone!). Enjoy!

14 Ways To Ask And Respond To The Question: Can I Pick Your Brain?

by Darrah Brustein

I’ll share with you here a number of ways you can respond, some which might even turn into a way to get paid for your knowledge.

These tips also translate if you’re hoping to get advice from someone with more expertise in a particular area.

We all have things to offer that are valuable to others and will help them on their path. Sometimes we charge for those; other times, we don’t. Undoubtedly, sharing knowledge is important.

But we get to choose to whom, what, where, when, and how we offer this advice and counsel.

It feels great to be the one who gives this help. It’s nice to share what we know. It’s even touching to reflect back on the times when we needed help and others offered.

But don’t use that against someone to force them into spending time with you. And don’t let that guilt you into having to say yes to everyone either.

Because we each have a finite amount of time and our own priorities, here are some important things to consider when you want to ask someone for help in this way:

1. Be considerate of someone’s time and intellectual property.

Sometimes that means being willing to offer payment or a value exchange. Would you go into a store, grab some merchandise, and walk out? Hopefully not, because that’s theft. So why do we expect people to offer their intellectual property so easily without expectation of payment or value exchange?

2. Consider the depth of your relationship to the ‘brain.’

It’s most likely that someone with whom you have a real relationship will want to help. But when can you consider a relationship to be established? If you’ve emailed several times or exchanged Facebook messages, does that count? What about when you’ve met once? When do you go from stranger to someone for whom I will make time? There isn’t a clear-cut answer as it’s subjective and personal. However, if you feel it’s a grey area, err on the side of caution, if simply for the sake of being polite. If you don’t have a pre-existing relationship, try to get introduced by a trusted mutual contact. The recipient will be much more likely to carve out time for you because of the carryover of trust they have from the connector.

3. Do your homework.

If it’s not possible to be introduced or to ask someone with whom you have an existing rapport, then it’s imperative that you demonstrate in your first contact that you did your homework. Why should that person take the time to help you if you didn’t take the time to extract as much learning as you can about the subject online beforehand, both in general and specifically from any content they already have shared.

Here’s a quick story of hope to insert at this point: one of my business idols is Julie Aigner-Clark, the creator and founder of Baby Einstein. When I published my book on financial literacy for kids, connecting with Julie to understand her journey in the space was of utmost importance to me. I knew no one in common with her, so I spent hours watching videos, reading interviews, and consuming everything I could learn that was already out on the internet about her. Then I wrote a thoughtful, complimentary and concise email via her contact form. I made it clear that I had done my homework, how much I respected her work, why I was reaching out and what my hopes were for spending some time on a call with her if she’d be open to it.

Much to my surprise, less than 24 hours later, I got an email from her welcoming a conversation. She was flattered by my depth of knowledge about her work, and that ingratiated me to her. Shortly after, we spoke for an hour, then several times after that. And I was careful to ask only questions of her whose answers I could not find online.

4. Don’t be insulting by presuming that coffee or lunch is a good exchange.

I didn’t ask her for time in person, and here’s why. When you add up the amount of time it would take for someone to commute to and from a given location and share their ideas and expertise with you, rarely will they consider your offer to pay for coffee or lunch a reasonable one. It can come off as insulting, and will quickly close a door to that interaction.

5. Intend to pay or offer value in some way.

If you’re not willing to pay for someone’s time, or offer value in some way before you want to take it, consider if there’s another way to obtain the information you’re seeking. If you can’t afford to pay, be upfront about your desire to give before you take, and suggest a way you could be helpful without paying.

6. Beware of sounding presumptuous.

Don’t craft your message as though their saying yes is a foregone conclusion. Saying something like, “When would be a good time for us to connect for coffee?” in your first correspondence is presumptuous and not respectful.

Now that we’re clear on how to ask someone for their time and advice properly, let’s consider how to reply to these types of requests.

7. It’s okay to say no.

Here’s a piece I wrote about saying no. It’s a helpful starting point for any time you want to decline an offer respectfully.

8. Make email templates.

Consider making email templates for these requests, using a tool like MixMax to auto-insert them into your emails. Ignoring them often leaves me feeling guilty, so this is a great way to reply respectfully without taking too much time.

9. Create a buffer and save time with a virtual assistant.

If you need to put a barrier between you and the asker, or if you get too many requests to handle by yourself, get an inexpensive virtual assistant to intercede. It can be a lot easier for this person to say no, to offer a resource you’ve already produced, or to share your consulting rate.

Or, before handing it off, you can reply by introducing the asker to your assistant. He or she can get a specific agenda or purpose out of them and offer 15 minutes to see if they might translate into a client.

10. Offer pro bono work.

You may want to offer some pro bono consulting. If so, determine what your own boundaries are for this.

For whom will you always make time? For whom not? Allow for some flexibility. Sometimes, you’ll surprise yourself with the ones to which you’ll say yes, because the asker was sincere, authentic and demonstrated that she did her homework, respected your time and was clear in her ask.

11. Refer the request to someone or something.

It’s always great to refer the requester to someone else who is a better fit, or to someone else’s relevant content.

Or, if you have content which you’ve already created on the subject, point them there.

If you get a lot of these requests asking the same thing, write a LinkedIn or Medium post to publish the common answer(s) and then direct people to that. It will also help to solidify your thought leadership in that area.

12. Get paid.

You can try to convert the asker into a client by saying, “I’m at capacity right now, so I’m not taking any meetings. As I’m sure you can appreciate, sometimes you have to put your head down and get work done 🙂 If you’re interested in becoming a client, I can send over info on that. If it’s simply a quick question you have, feel free to email it, and I can see about answering it by email.”

Or, “I’m happy to connect, and I charge $X/hour for consulting. Please let me know if you’d like to set up a time to do so.”

Or, “I’m not available for coffee, but you should really consider checking out my _____ (your product or service). I designed it to help people like you in this exact situation!”

You can also create an hourly or flat-rate consulting platform for these requests. Make the dollar amount worth your time, so if someone buys it, you’re happy to do it.

13. Implement office hours.

If it’s best for you, create ‘office hours,’ which is a specific slot of time that you use for these conversations. It will keep you sane, as well as weed out people who aren’t open to work around your schedule when they’re asking to glean from you.

I’ve found that most of these requests disappear when I offer one specific time frame that’s convenient for me, offer to do it for an exchange of payment, or ask for them to be more clear about their question(s) before we hop on a call.

14. Make it personal.

Sometimes someone reaches out it in a manner that is complimentary, but it sounds like a social call, and doesn’t specify that they want to ‘pick your brain’. However, you know that’s what they want. Reply by saying, “I’ve made a personal rule not to take any meetings when I haven’t made time to spend with my best friend recently (and she and I haven’t connected in ages due to my schedule). I so appreciate your kind words, and hope you understand why I need to pass.”

Ultimately, respect your time and put a value on it. Don’t be afraid to ask for payment, to say no, or to respect your own boundaries. And if you’re in the market to ‘pick someone’s brain,’ put yourself in her shoes to position yourself for success.

Thank you again to Darrah for allowing me to re-post this article!

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Want To Be a Public Speaker? Beware of the “Exposure” Bait

If your career goal is to become a public speaker, or to offer a service where public speaking will be one of your revenue streams, you should first read this.

(And, if your an aspiring singer/songwriter here in Nashville, you should also read this since the same advice will apply to you. You’ll frequently be asked to perform locally for free at various events and charities in exchange for “exposure,” a common request in the music industry.)

Oftentimes independent service providers and industry experts get asked to speak on their particular areas of knowledge to a local group or at a special event. I’ve been called to do so several times. Here’s how the scenario typically plays out.

The Scenario

Caller: 

“Hi, I’m Ms. Organizer of the XYZ professional group. We found your web site and we’d love to have you come talk about your area of expertise to our members. Now, we’re not a revenue-generating organization, so we can’t pay you to come speak. But, it will give you GREAT exposure to those in attendance who could be potential clients for you!”

Your Reaction

Which of the following would be your initial reaction if you got this call?

  • “Wow! They want ME to come and speak? I’m so honored!”
  • “Well, I could use the exposure since I’m still trying to build my client base. It could be worth my time even though I’m not getting paid I guess.”
  • “OMG! I’m terrified of speaking in front of groups! I think I’m already having a panic attack!”
  • “Last time I spoke to a group they told me it would be great exposure, but it wasn’t. There was no one there interested in any of my services which was disappointing.”
  • “There’s no way I’m speaking for free! My time and knowledge is worth more than that!”

Most people’s reaction is typically one of the above emotional reactions, depending on how long they’ve been in business. But when you take the emotions out of the situation, what should your rational response be? Should you take the unpaid speaking gig, or not?

Before we answer that question, let’s consider a few things.

Do you really need the exposure?

It might be early in your business and you need to get your name out there. Therefore, you may have to do a few free speaking gigs, but eventually will have to transition to opportunities that are more of a win-win.

Some people will dangle the bait of “exposure” and try to convince you that “exposure” makes the request a win-win. However, I’ve found in my past experience that the amount of time spent preparing a presentation was never a fair trade for “exposure.”

Is the cause near and dear to your heart?

If you’re being asked to speak to a non-profit or a cause that’s near and dear to your heart, and your expertise will greatly benefit those being served by that non-profit, by all means provide your speaking services for free!

I have developed a great relationship with a local faith-based organization that helps those who are stuck in poverty get out of their vicious cycle of hardship. Every quarter I go in and teach job interview skills and conduct mock interviews with those enrolled in their work-life program.

I know this audience cannot afford my services and I don’t expect them to turn into clients. I provide my presentations to them and the organization as a way to give back to those in need.

While I once used to speak to groups for exposure, I now limit my free speaking services to organizations like the one described above.

Is there another way to get the exposure you need?

Free speaking gigs aren’t the only way for you to get exposure for your business endeavor. There are other alternatives.

For instance, I love to write and it doesn’t require as much of my time as preparing a presentation. I definitely get a much bigger return on my investment of time with writing than I do with any free speaking gig.

I provide a ton of free content here on my blog, on my Medium and Quora accounts, and in several published articles. Since I have clients located in various states, it makes much more sense for me to provide free content online to an unlimited audience than it does to a small audience only in my local area.

In fact, one of my Quora articles providing free resume advice has over 150,000 views and several hundred upvotes. I could never get that kind of exposure with a speaking gig at a local organization!

To Speak or Not to Speak, That is the Question

So back to the question of should you say yes to a request to speak for free?

What kind of win-win situation is potentially available if you agree? Is it one that benefits the organization’s audience while also benefiting you? For example, could this be great practice for a future public speaking career? Or if you later decide to add presentations to your income stream?

How you choose to handle this situation can set the tone for all future speaking gigs. Also, it can either make or break your piggy bank if you get these kinds of requests on a regular basis. You definitely don’t want to develop a personal brand as someone who will do everything for free!

To help you decide on your response, below are a few suggestions I shared from my own personal experience with the Freelancers Union Nashville chapter.

(Freelancers Union is a national organization that protects the rights of freelancers and independent service providers. They helped get the “Freelance Isn’t Free” law passed in New York. This law protects independent service providers from nonpayment. They have ongoing efforts in getting the same law passed in all other states.)

How to Decide

First, wait until the emotions (excitement, uncertainty, fear, etc.) subside before agreeing to anything. Ask for a couple of days to check your calendar and get back to them with an answer.

Then, in those couple of days, spend some time developing your priorities and a strategic plan for agreeing to non-paid opportunities (because if you get one request, you’ll like get more requests!).

Your plan should be made up of two lists:  a “SAY YES IF” list and a “SAY NO IF” list.

Say YES if…

The “SAY YES IF” list can include any criteria that make it a win-win situation. Suggestions of criteria to include in this list are:

  • If your target market/ideal client is represented in the audience. But don’t take the caller’s word for it. You know your market better than they do. Do your research and ask enough questions to determine if your market will actually be represented.
  • If they allow you to promote your own business/services or sell your products at the end of your talk.
  • If you get to choose a topic that doesn’t require a lot of time for additional research and preparation on your part. It should be a topic you know well enough to speak on without any notes. If it’s simply a Q&A or a panel with other experts, that’s even better because those scenarios require little to no research or preparation.
  • If the prep and delivery time doesn’t cut too deeply into your billable hours. Always keep your paying clients and paid projects your top priority.
  • If they offer to give you an honorarium for your time and expertise. It’s okay to ask them if they ever do that for speakers who agree to come speak for significantly less than what you’d normally charge and/or what other speakers would typically charge.
  • If the organization is related to a cause that’s near and dear to your heart.

Say NO if…

The “SAY NO IF” list can include the following suggested criteria:

  • If at least 3 of the criteria from your “SAY YES IF” list aren’t met.
  • If the organization has very specific or unrealistic demands, keeps changing details on you, or does anything else to make things difficult. An example of an unrealistic demand would be them asking you to teach their audience your trade secrets or how to do your job! (I actually received such a request recently.)
  • If you’re not allowed to invite participants to visit your web site or subscribe to your newsletter.

Feel free to add your own criteria to each list. Remember, it must be a win-win situation or you’ll become resentful!

Beware though, when enforcing your criteria people may accuse you of having a sense of entitlement. But it’s not entitlement if you’ve worked hard in your industry to gain the knowledge you have. Besides, who’s really the one with the sense of entitlement? Could it be those expecting you to give them something for nothing?

Be Strategic

You don’t want to say yes to every opportunity. Doing so will cause you to not only lose money but also time you could dedicate to your paying clients.

You also don’t want to say no to every opportunity (no matter how fearful you are of public speaking) because you’ll miss out on helping others and also getting your name out to potential clients.

The trick is to be strategic about it.

If you start to get an unmanageable amount of requests, then it’s time to consider doing one or both of the following:

  • Include presentations into your business as an additional revenue stream since your topic is in high demand. Then charge accordingly.
  • Limit the number of free gigs you do per year to only a few. This will require you to be selective in which organization you want to donate your time and expertise to.

Why You The Public Speaker Are Worth It

Public speaking or performing on a stage can be an extremely stressful thing. In fact, it’s the number one fear, before death at number five and loneliness at number seven.

It can even be stressful for those who love it or have done it for years. Ozzy Osborne has been performing onstage for over 40 years and admits to still getting jitters before every show. Even though I’m energized during or right after a big presentation, I experience a looming sense of dread the week leading up to it.

If you also experience this kind of stress, it can be a tremendous cost to you, including lost sleep or sickness from nervousness.

In addition, you’re sharing your expertise, which is basically your intellectual property. It’s what your clients are already paying you for. You deserve to be paid for your knowledge, and you also need to be fair to your paying clients!

If you have knowledge and expertise that people want, then it’s in demand. Don’t worry if you present it in a different way from other popular speakers. As long as you’re providing something helpful in an engaging way using your own unique approach, then you’re worth getting paid something.

And if none of the above convinces you you’re worth it, then consider this: it’s biblical. Both I Timothy 5:18b and Luke 10:7 states, “the worker deserves his wages.”

Related Post:

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Dear Recruiters, Treat Candidates the Way You Want to Be Treated


An Open Letter to Hiring Managers

Dear hiring managers and recruiters,

I know your job is tough. 

I know how many hundreds and even thousands of resumes you have to look through and the pressures you face in finding the right candidate for the job. 

And I know the things job seekers do that annoy you (those things sometimes annoy me too). 

It’s why I coach my clients on how to strike a balance between helping you see how their qualifications fit the job and not pestering you to death. 

I want to help them help make your job easier. 

But, I also have to come to my clients’ defense on a few things. 

The etiquette and courtesy you expect from job seekers…the etiquette I teach them in order to meet your expectations…should be reciprocated


My story.

Before I go any further, let me first tell you a story.

I remember it like it was yesterday. Twelve years ago I interviewed for two different career services jobs in two different departments on the campus of a very prestigious southern university.

While both interviews were on the same campus, my experiences were as different as night and day.


In my first interview, the search committee chair picked me up from my hotel and took me to breakfast. 

After breakfast she took me to the office where all the staff greeted me warmly. Everyone showed a genuine interest in my skills and my portfolio during my interview.

After my interview, several other staff members escorted me to the University Club for a very elegant lunch.

I was honest and upfront with the director who was making the hiring decision. I told her I had another interview scheduled with another department on campus the following week.


A few days later, I got a call from the director saying she wanted to meet with me as soon as I was back in town for my other interview. 

I told her I could come by her office as soon as I was done with the following week’s interview.

She gave me her personal cell phone number and asked me to call her as soon as I was finished with the interview.


I arrived the following week for my interview for the other job.

This time, I was told I needed to walk from my hotel to this department’s office. That didn’t seem like a problem since it was only a couple of blocks away, until I stepped outside into a southern sauna.

When I arrived for my interview, the receptionist offered me some coffee. Instead I chose water because of the heat from the walk.

This was around 8am.

Finally, around 1pm, when my interview with about the 5th person in the office was starting, I asked if I could have a minute to use the restroom (because I had not been offered a break at all yet during the interview process).

She was very kind and said to me, “You probably haven’t had lunch yet either, have you?”

“No ma’am,” I replied.

She rolled her eyes and started sifting through her purse. She must’ve been a mom because she pulled out a granola bar to give to me, and said, “ They did the same thing to me when I interviewed here!”

As I was leaving the second interview, the hiring manager for this job said, “Thanks for coming,” and shut the door in my face.

I’ve never had an interview end that abruptly before. I was starting to think they didn’t want me.

And I knew from that experience, I didn’t want them!


As promised, after my second interview, I called the hiring manager from my first interview to let her know I was done and that I would soon head toward her office across campus. 

But first I asked her if I could have about 30 minutes to grab something to eat before coming over. I was so hungry since it was already about 2pm and I still hadn’t had any lunch.

Her response: “You mean they didn’t feed you?”

Me: “No ma’am.”

Her: “You stay right where you are. I’m coming to pick you up and take you to lunch.”

She picked me up and took me to one of the swankiest restaurants in town.

And she offered me the job.


Believe it or not, I also got an offer for the other job, for the same amount of money.

Can you guess which offer I took???


Do Unto Others As You’d Have Done To You

With the unemployment rate at an all time low right now (3.9%), hiring managers can’t afford to turn off any well-qualified prospects.

Yet, I see it happening all the time. I hear it directly from my clients.

My clients do all the right things I teach them to do. The things every job seeker is expected to do in the job search, like showing up for interviews on time, sending thank you notes afterwards, etc.

But (in general), they’re not treated with the same respect.

So my plea to you, the recruiters and hiring managers, is to consider practicing the following five common courtesies. They are simple and easy to do. 

And I guarantee, by extending these courtesies, you’ll land the best talent who will show the same courtesy to your customers and your clients.


5 Common Courtesies for Recruiters and Hiring Managers

1. Be clear, specific, and realistic in the job description.

One of the complaints many hiring managers have is candidates not fully reading the job description before applying for the job. That is frustrating, I’m sure. 

But often times, hiring managers post job descriptions without having read them either. 

Are you really taking the time to see if the description sounds too vague? Does it accurately describe what’s expected of the person in this role?

Did you just copy and paste it from a past job ad? Or did you just ask HR to write it for you without telling them what you really want?

One of the complaints most candidates have is that many of the hundreds of job ads they have to sift through are extremely vague.


Also, be realistic about what you’re looking for. 

You can’t expect to find an adequate pool of candidates who check off each and every box. Especially if you’ve gone overboard on your list of requirements. 

You’re not going to find a unicorn!

But it is likely you’ll find some high-quality candidates who have the majority of the skills and requirements you’re seeking who can easily be trained in the areas where they’re lacking.

Be open to such candidates. This will save you time in the long run so you wont’ have to go back through your list of candidates you originally dismissed.


2. Be on time for the interview.

You obviously expect candidates to show up on time (if not early) for their interviews. It would make for a very bad impression if they didn’t.

You also don’t want to make a bad impression. Don’t keep candidates waiting. They’re already nervous. Having to sit and wait for you is just going to make them more nervous. 

And it could possibly make them late for any other interviews they have lined up after yours.

Be mindful and respectful of their time.


3. Be honest in answering questions.

The interview should always be a two-way street. 

When giving candidates the time to ask questions of their own, be as honest as you can in your responses, just like you want and expect them to be with their answers to your questions.

This may sound obvious. But I personally have been in interviews where I asked some tough questions about turnover and I was given vague or politically correct but dishonest answers.

Remember, candidates do their homework. 

They read the reviews on Glassdoor.com.

And they have connections of their own who know what’s really going on in your company and aren’t afraid to tell them the truth. 

Consider how it will make you and your company look when candidates compare notes with their contacts. 


4. Don’t abuse the process.

I always tell my clients it’s unethical to interview for a job they have no intentions of taking just to get the interview practice.

It’s also unethical for a company to interview candidates and have them pitch ideas with no intentions of hiring them, just to collect their ideas.

Years ago, I had a day-long interview where in one part of the afternoon I was given 45 minutes and certain parameters to come up with an idea for a new program that could be implemented throughout the organization. 

I then had to pitch my idea along with details on how to implement it.

I didn’t get the job, and later found out that no one got the job. 

It made all of us candidates wonder if the company held interviews just to get ideas without having to pay a salary for them. 

This can and has happened before, which is a very unethical practice. 

I always tell my clients if they sense this is what’s happening in an interview, consider it a red flag!


5. Follow up.

I teach my clients to always follow up their interviews with a thank you note to each and every person they interviewed with, even if it was with 15 different people. 

I’m sure many recruiters and hiring managers appreciate this gesture and take it into consideration when deciding on who to hire.

So, please, for the sanity of the poor souls who have:

a.) gone through a cumbersome online application system,  

b.) taken the time to research your company, 

c.) spent time interviewing with you, and 

d.) written numerous thank you notes to all of the interviewers, 

…let them know if they didn’t get the job.

You don’t have to notify everyone who applied for the job. Just the 3–5 people you interviewed. You don’t even have to tell them why you didn’t select them. 

Just LET THEM KNOW.

It breaks my heart to see clients’ hope slipping away along with their confidence as each day passes without hearing anything at all from the company they put so much time and energy into their interview process.

It’s just plain rude to spend that amount of time with a candidate getting to know so much about them to then never hear from you.

Recruiters and hiring managers say they want candidates to come in to an interview with confidence. But when the above scenario occurs over and over, how can you expect them to maintain their confidence? 

Trust me. It’s much better for them to know they didn’t get the job than to know nothing at all and to keep replaying in their minds what they might have said or done wrong. 

Please, help them move on with a simple “yes” or “no” email. That’s all it takes.


Remember, you were once on the other side of the desk. 

So do unto your candidates as you’d have done to you if you were in their shoes…which you may be someday again in your own career.

Related Post: Did You Get Ghosted After Your Interview? What to Do Now


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Never Say Never: How to Know When You Should Let a Bridge Burn

“Never burn a bridge.”

We’ve all been told by mentors, career experts and well-meaning friends and co-workers to “never burn a bridge.”

It’s the number one rule of networking. Or is it?

There’s always an exception to the rule. And this rule is no different.

Never Say Never

Whenever I hear someone say, “never burn a bridge,” I always respond with,

“But don’t continue standing on a bridge someone else has lit a match to.”

I said that recently to someone who’s dealing with the loss of a job. She’s doing all the right things, she’s being professional about the situation, and she’s trying her best to not burn any bridges despite how she’s been treated in her job loss.

I think she was a little relieved to hear my response. It’s like it gave her permission to just move on from the negative aspects of the situation.

And just last week one of my clients told me she’s taken my advice and decided not to renew one of her client’s contracts because of how badly she’s been treated by her client. She realized since she’d never allow someone to treat her that way in her own personal life she doesn’t have to allow anyone to treat her that way in her business.

She said it’s the most freeing feeling she’s had in a long time.

Think about it. You don’t hear “never burn a bridge” advice given in any 12-step recovery program.

In fact, it’s the opposite. Twelve-step members are told to cut out the relationships that are contributing to or enabling their unhealthy addictions.

If someone is doing something to ruin your working relationship or make it toxic and unhealthy for you, that’s on them.

They’re the one burning the bridge. Not you.

Your job is to do what it takes to escape getting burned before it’s too late.

This is also true if someone is doing something that by association would give you a bad name among all your other good contacts.

Common Traits of Bridge Burners

It’s important though to first recognize the common traits of bridge burners.

Speaking generally, they typically are people who:

  • Only take and never give.
  • Behave unprofessionally on a regular basis.
  • Often operate in an unethical (and even sometimes illegal) manner.
  • Always expect something for nothing.
  • Are so power hungry they’ll step on anyone to get to the top.
  • You can tell are being fake in their interest in you or their praise of you.
  • Care way too much about their job title (I’ve worked with several people like this and they’ve all exhibited the above signs of bridge burners).
  • Don’t have your back when they say they do.
  • Continually give your gut a bad vibe.

Please understand the above is based on consistent behavior.

No one is perfect and we’re all guilty of doing some of the above on occasion.

But if you find yourself being abused on a regular basis by people exhibiting these behaviors, it’s time to smell the smoke and run for safety!

How to Stay Safe When a Bridge is Burning

So how do you stay safe, especially if you have to continue working with a bridge burner until the embers die down?

First, stay calm. Try your best not to react to the bad behavior, especially when you’re emotional. You may not be able to control the other person’s behavior, but you can control your own.

Keep your distance. Don’t ignore the person when you know you shouldn’t, but keep any necessary interactions with the person as short and limited as possible.

When having discussions with the other person, always state facts and facts only. Avoid expressing your emotions to someone who can’t be trusted with your emotions.

Remain professional in your limited interactions even when the other person doesn’t.

Establish boundaries. If the person keeps trying to cross those boundaries, keep repeating your boundaries over and over. If the behavior continues despite your repeated requests for it to stop, report it.

Keep Networking!

Networking is the most crucial element of the job search! Maintaining and nurturing good professional relationships is key to your success.

So is protecting yourself from toxic relationships that can only hinder you in your efforts.

Seek wisdom and discernment to recognize the difference between the good and the bad contacts.

And get off the bridge when you smell smoke!

Related Resources:

never burn a bridge

The Best Way to Write a Successful Elevator Speech


It’s Time to Ditch The Pitch for Something Better

Do some people’s elevator pitches make you wish you’d taken the stairs?

Does the thought of having to share your own elevator speech make you want to pitch yourself down the elevator shaft?

Most elevator speeches are very awkward. And it’s obvious when someone has over-thought their pitch when reciting it.


The Wrong Way to Write an Elevator Speech

I have a friend and colleague who, every time I get his voicemail, I have to sit through the sound of his voice reading his elevator speech word-for-word from a piece of paper.

While it’s a well-written and well-thought-out pitch, it still sounds and feels “manufactured.”

It’s much like the endless elevator speeches I’ve had to sit through at networking events where we all have to go around the room and introduce ourselves with our elevator pitches.

I couldn’t begin to tell you what each person said in those meetings because I was probably sitting there trying to decide what exactly I wanted to say when it came my turn.

You’ve probably experienced the same thing.

All I know is by the end of it, I felt like I’d had everyone’s industry jargon vomited into my ears.

And it was obvious some people took the term “speech” literally and used the very outdated advice of making their pitch one minute long.

Have you ever timed yourself for one minute?

It’s WAY TOO LONG!

In fact, 30 seconds is WAY TOO LONG!

Especially in this day and age where attention spans are shrinking.

Do you know what else?

Not one of those pitches spoke directly to me. I never felt like the person was trying to relate to me or engage me or anyone else in the group.

They just spewed out an obviously rehearsed MONOLOGUE.


How to Write a Better (and Less Annoying) Elevator Pitch

If you’re in a place where you need an elevator speech or you need to update your current elevator speech for networking purposes, you’ll want to follow these tips when drafting your pitch.

Doing so will result in more authentic and more productive networking conversations that are less awkward.

Best of all, your listener (or listeners) won’t feel like they’re being “networked.”


1. Keep it to 7 seconds or less!

Yes, you read that right. Gone are the days of long drawn-out diatribes about what you do.

Don’t give your listener’s eyes time to glaze over as you keep babbling on about something that makes no sense to someone outside your company or your industry.

You may be wondering though how you can say everything you need to say in only 7 seconds. Read on!


2. Start With a Question to Create a Dialogue

Always start your pitch first with a question. This allows you to engage your listener or audience and begin a dialogue


3. Make Your Question Relatable and Use Common Language

Think about what is a typical problem or challenge your market faces. What kind of wording do they typically use to describe their problem or challenge?

For instance, I’m a career coach who specializes in helping people make career transitions to work that’s more related to their passions.

But I don’t introduce myself that way.

Instead, I look at the types of words my clients use to describe their situation when they first come to me or when they fill out my intake form.

Many often say they “feel stuck” in their careers.

Everyone has felt stuck in their career or their life at one time or another. Therefore everyone can relate to that feeling.

So, my own elevator pitch starts out like this:

“Have you or someone you know ever felt stuck in your career?”

(Most people at least know someone who has felt stuck even if they personally haven’t, hence the phrase, “or someone you know.”)

The word “stuck” is easy-to-understand language that’s common to most people’s vocabulary, as opposed to some kind of industry jargon that only my fellow career coaches would typically understand.

Plus, the word also stirs up the listener’s emotions.


4. Pique the Listener’s Interest

Nine times out of ten, the answer to my question is “yes.” A “yes” then creates buy-in to what I say next.

“Well, I help people get unstuck.”

That’s it. That’s my whole elevator pitch.

From there, the listener’s interest is piqued and he or she now wants to know more about how I help people get unstuck. This usually leads to a question from my listener:

“How do you do that?”

Now we’ve got a dialogue going on that allows me to go into more detail about what I do, why I do it, how I do it, etc., all the while asking the listener additional questions to keep it conversational.


So when you sit down to draft your own elevator pitch, make sure you’re writing one that is so simple not only for you to remember but for the listener to understand.

Remember to keep it short, ask a question, create a dialogue, make it relatable, keep it simple, and pique the listener’s interest.

That way, once you’ve written it, you can toss your sheet of paper out because you’ll never need to read from it or use it to memorize something that’s too long and boring.


More Networking Tips

For more networking tips, check out two of my most popular articles:

7 Comfortable and Easy Networking Tips for Introverts (or Anyone Who Dislikes Networking)

and

How to Be Realistic About Networking

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elevator speech