October 3, 2016
“Pick your brain” sessions can boost your career success, or, if mishandled, can cause you to burn a bridge.
The business leaders and successful entrepreneurs you admire most are extremely busy. They run businesses, manage hectic schedules, and find it difficult to carve out time for a leisurely chat. Yet, they often say yes to those who ask them if they can “pick their brain.” Successful professionals and seasoned entrepreneurs are usually more than willing to share their expertise and advice with people who are looking to advance their career or launch a business. Like most of us, they had mentors and professionals who generously shared their time and expertise to help them achieve their goals. They admire self-starters and are happy to pay it forward to help others to achieve success.
Follow these seven rules when you decide to “pick a brain.”
1. Establish a connection.
Many people feel comfortable reaching out to business professionals who speak at events because they feel like they know the speaker after they have heard their presentation. The challenge for the speaker is that they don’t know the audience member. While they try to be generous with their time, they are logistically unable to meet with everyone who wants to pick their brain. So it is important to establish a connection. Successful people are more likely to meet with you if you already have a relationship with them. Perhaps you were seated next to each other and chatted at a professional association luncheon, or your paths have crossed at events because you work in the same industry. If you have a mutual contact, ask them to make a proper introduction. Take a look a LinkedIn to see if you have shared connections.
2. Do your homework.
Follow the professional you admire on Twitter, subscribe to their blog and read their books. Learn everything you can about their career path, their business and their perspectives on your area of interest. Learning about them shows respect and it will help you to gain insight into what you really hope to gain from picking their brain.
4. Be prepared with a clear objective.
If you approach a professional and ask for general advice, they will be less inclined to meet with you because they know that you can search the Internet for that type of information. Instead, prepare one or two specific questions that relate directly to the individual or their business. Again, this is why it is so important to do your homework. Your questions should focus on their expertise.
5. Honor their time.
If they are willing to meet with you, let them choose the date, time and venue that is most convenient for them. Remember, they are doing you the favor of sharing their valuable time to help you out. Ask how much time they are able to allow for the meeting. Always arrive at least 10 minutes prior to the scheduled time. They should never need to wait for you. If you arrive even a few minutes late, your credibility will plummet. If they have agreed to a 30-minute meeting, it must end at precisely 30 minutes … not 40.
3. Assess your professional image.
You need to also take a look at yourself and your image. Does your LinkedIn profile position you as a credible professional? Do you have a proven track record of accomplishments either in school or business? Do you have a network of other professionals who can attest to your integrity? It’s important for you to understand that when you reach out to pick someone’s brain, they are more than likely going to Google you to learn more about you so make sure that you convey an image of excellence on social media … including your personal Facebook page.
6. Pick up the tab.
If you ask someone if you can pick their brain, it is your responsibility to treat them. Even if they suggest meeting for coffee or lunch, you need to insist on treating. Under no circumstances is it acceptable for them to pay for their food when you have extended the invitation and they are providing advice at no charge to you.
7. Thank them in a classy way.
A handwritten “thank you” note is the only acceptable way to thank someone after they have generously shared their valuable time and expertise. You need to send a card within 24 hours of your meeting and mention specific examples of what you gained from their expertise. Please don’t enclose your business card with your note. You had an opportunity to give them one during your meeting. An inserted business card significantly diminishes the sincerity of your thank you message and may imply a hidden agenda.
Your goal is to build a bridge, not burn a bridge.
Your professional relationship with someone you admire should not end once he or she answers your question. If you were lucky enough to meet face-to-face or have a phone call with a successful business leader, look for opportunities to grow the relationship. Focus on “what’s in it for them.” Stay in touch and pay it forward whenever you can. Remember, referrals are the highest form of compliment and it’s another way to say thank you. Pay attention to what’s going on with their business and be sure to congratulate their accomplishments with a quick note or email.