Tag: networking


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!

Related Posts

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Thank You to My Clients Who Are Such a Blessing to Me!

As I work with my clients, I see so many with similar and overlapping passions and goals. Because of this, they serve as resources for each other. But only if they know each other.

So, I decided to introduce all my clients to each other over coffee and dessert.

But I also had other reasons for getting them in the same room. I wanted to thank them. And to honor them.

client appreciation

Client Appreciation

I wanted to thank them for being such a blessing to me. They have no idea how much of a blessing they’ve been.

I’ve had clients call on me when I had eye surgery to see how I was doing.

I’ve had clients give me handmade jewelry as a gift and do a drawing of mw as my childhood hero.

But most of all, I’ve gained such joy in just getting to know my clients. To hear them share their dreams and to help them pursue those dreams with success.

client appreciation

It Takes Courage

I also wanted to honor them for their courage. It took all of them a lot of courage to take that first step in seeking coaching to pursue their passions.

Because they took that step, they are the ones who are no longer feeling stuck in their lives and careers.

They are the ones who are putting one foot in front of the other to make their passions and goals a reality.

client appreciation

You’re the Inspiration

When I had each person at the event go around and tell about their passion, it was like I was hearing their story for the first time. Even though my work with each of them allows me to know the details of their efforts, hearing them share their stories with others was so inspiring!

It was inspiring to hear how goals are being clarified, pursued, and achieved. Whether it is someone working to make their side hustle their full-time gig, or another finding a job they love going to everyday.

client appreciation

Growing in Confidence

Since many of my clients are spread out across the country, not everyone could attend. But one client came all the way from West Palm Beach, Florida.

One of my local clients couldn’t attend because she had play practice for a musical she’d finally had the courage and confidence to audition for because of the coaching she’s received thus far. It was her first time in years auditioning or singing, and she landed one of the main roles in a production of Little Shop of Horrors. She’s also finally gained the confidence to start her own business, something she’s wanted to do for some time.

client appreciation

I can’t help but beam when I see my clients stepping out of their comfort zone and growing in their confidence.

Because that’s what it’s all about.

Are you ready to get unstuck and start pursing your passions? Take the first step by completing the paNASH intake form. I’d love to help you grow in your confidence and achieve your goals!

Photos by Katie Gooch

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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

Subscribe to the paNASH newsletter and receive a complimentary 8-Step Goal-Achievement Plan.

elevator speech


What You Need to Know to Ensure A Successful Career


As both a career coach and a creative thinker, I’m always brainstorming unique and out-of-the-box ways to help my clients have a successful career.

It’s important to be innovative and unconventional when competition for opportunities is fierce.

It’s the only way to get the attention from the right audience (those who have the opportunities to offer) and to stand out from the competition in a good way.

That’s why I’ve shared posts like:


However, there is some career advice that stands the test of time, but only when it’s put into practice.

The problem is, some people still don’t even know about this timeless advice.

And even if they do, they fail to implement it and then wonder why they’re not having the success they’d like to have in their careers.

Don’t be one of these people!


Career Advice That Never Goes Out of Style

To have a successful career, you have to always work at your career, even when you think your job is secure. (Understand that it rarely is!)

So what is the best course of action and best use of your time? Following these successful career strategies that never go out of style!


1. Keep your resume updated every 6 months, even when you’re not looking for another job.

It’s a lot easier to remember what you’ve done in the past six months than in the past six years.

By then it will be nearly impossible to remember how you impacted the company’s bottom line with each project you worked on.

So, every six months, take an inventory of your most recent on-the-job accomplishments.

Ask yourself how each of your duties, ideas, or efforts made an impact on the bottom line.

  • Did they increase profit or revenue? By how much?
  • Did they decrease spending? By what percentage?
  • Did they save man hours? How does that translate to dollars saved?
  • Did they increase customer satisfaction or decrease customer complaints? By what percentage?
  • Did they make processes more efficient? How much time did this save?
  • Did they boost staff morale? How much did productivity increase with this boost?

Add your accomplishments to your resume each time you update it.

If you do this, you’ll be prepared for three possible scenarios:

  1. When you’re up for a promotion.
  2. When you’re ready to ask for a pay raise.
  3. Or when you need to look for a new job.

There have been times when I’ve been asked for a copy of my resume when I wasn’t even looking for a job, like the times I’ve been hired for a speaking engagement.

When that happens, I’m always glad I’ve got something up-to-date to send them.

(For more details on updating your resume, see my post Why You Should Update Your Resume Every 6 Months.)


2. Find a mentor. 

You should always pinpoint someone in your industry or company you aspire to be like and get to know and learn from that person.

Also, a mentor is something you can negotiate for when you’re offered a job and are negotiating salary and perks.

Asking for a mentor makes you look good because it shows your initiative to learn. It’s a perk that doesn’t cost the company any additional money, and you’ll gain priceless lessons and advice.


3. Serve on committees that match your interests. 

Every company or organization has various committees that need people from different departments to serve on.

Find one that matches your interests and dedicate a reasonable amount of time to it (1 to 4 hours per month).

Doing this will get you out of your daily routine and your everyday surroundings, introduce you to new people in other departments, help you develop your soft skills, and build your resume.

For instance, I have an interest in both sports and international travel.

When I worked in the career center at a university back in North Carolina, I volunteered to serve on a committee that initiated the athletic department’s implementation of the NCAA’s life skills program for college athletes.

I also represented the University of North Carolina’s Exchange Program and served on the Australia Exchange Student sub-committee.

And when I worked in the career center at Vanderbilt University, I partnered with both the Study Abroad Office and the Athletics Department to provide presentations to their students on how to market their unique collegiate experiences to potential employers.

These experiences enriched my career because I got to work with others in areas that fascinated me and I got to develop skills in public speaking and program development.


4. Take advantage of professional development opportunities offered by your employer.

This can include professional association memberships, conferences, in-house professional development programs, etc.

These opportunities also help you build your knowledge, skills, resume, and network.

In fact, there’s a company here in the Nashville that’s hired me to present my program on personal branding to several of their employees.

It says a lot about a company, its culture, and its dedication to the holistic development of their staff to offer such programs to their employees on the company’s dime.

So if your company offers it, take advantage of it of the free self-improvement!


5. Always build your network and maintain professional relationships, even when you’re not looking for a job. 

You’ll benefit from professional relationships whether you stay within the same field throughout your career or if you change industries or start your own business.

And because relationship building takes time, the sooner you start building and maintaining your professional relationships, the more your connections will be willing to assist you when you find yourself in need of their help.

But you have to be realistic about networking. While I’ve had some professional relationships that resulted in immediate career benefits, most have taken years of investment and being of assistance on my part before I fully experienced the benefits.


6. Prepare for a layoff, even if you don’t think one will happen.

This goes hand-in-hand with #1 and #5.

You don’t want to find yourself suddenly without a job and having to scramble to write a resume because it’s been 15 years since you’ve last had to write one.

And you don’t want to have any awkwardness when reaching out to your contacts because it’s been WAY too long since you last spoke with them.

Instead, you want to always be prepared with the tools needed to find your next opportunity when the need arises.

Other suggestions to prepare for a layoff:

  • Always have a few months worth of expenses saved up.
  • Develop your transferable skills and your soft skills (i.e. communication skills, presentation/public speaking skills, interpersonal skills, etc.).
  • Develop the skills of an entrepreneur in case you have to (or desire to) work for yourself for a while.

Yes, it’s easier to be short-sighted and just do your job, focusing on the bare minimum and most immediate items on your to-do list.

But investing time and energy into the above strategies will lead to long-term successful career and will pay off in spades down the road!

If you need help to ensure a successful career, sign up for a complimentary initial consultation by completing the paNASH intake form.

successful career