What’s the best way to ask for someone’s time when seeking advice?

We often need help, and it's OK to ask for it. Whether you want insight, connections, or guidance, it's important to be courteous. The folks you reach out to are likely higher-profile, industry veterans, or both, with busy schedules. They're going out of their way to give time and attention to you, a stranger, while expecting nothing in return. Here are a few suggestions for how to ask for someone's time, and how to engage when you take it.

Action Items

  • 1. GET A PERSONAL INTRODUCTION IF YOU CAN.

    Ask a trusted friend or colleague to introduce you. A personal introduction starts you off closer together; anything to reduce formality is good.

  • 2. LEAD WITH TL:DR;

    People don't have time to read emails. Quickly thank the person making the introduction and indicate that you're moving them to bcc. Always do this to let the introducer know that you've initiated conversation, and to relieve them of more email. State who you are and why you want to meet in one to two sentences. Ask to meet for coffee at a time and place convenient for them. Say thank you and sign off.

  • 3. PROVIDE CONTEXT.

    You may append additional context if you feel it'd be helpful. Bullet points under clear headers are great. An example is "A LITTLE MORE ABOUT ME" which could lead to a short paragraph. Then "WORK" which could introduce a short list of links: LinkedIN, online portfolio, writing samples.

  • 4. PING.

    Sometimes emails slip through the cracks. If you don't get a response in one week, send one more email to check in. I've always been happy to get polite pings when my time is being asked for and I dropped the ball on responding. Likewise, I've never gotten negative reactions when I'm doing the reminding.

  • 5. MAKE IT EASY TO SCHEDULE.

    Usually the person's assistant will take care of calendar, but if setting time and venue directly, suggest a time yourself first. It can feel like a lot of work for some people to initiate the scheduling, so take this burden off their hands and put a stake in the ground. Venue should be convenient to the other party; they can set that. Reserve 60 minutes in your own schedule but send a calendar for no more than 30. Never assume you have a full hour! It can appear obnoxious. If a phone call is the only thing possible, take it.

  • 6. BE FLEXIBLE.

    Be understanding about rescheduling, sometimes quite last minute. There’s a reason you’re asking this person for their time. You’re not the only one who is asking for it, so don’t assume you’re a priority. It's a good idea to share your phone number or open DM information in advance so they can contact you more easily while on the go. If there's a month or more between correspondence and the meeting date, send a quick note a few days before you meet.

  • 7. BE ON TIME.

    Better yet, get there 5 minutes early. If you're a chronic fashionably-late person, squat at the cafe beforehand to get some work done; then you're already there hours in advance.

  • 8. PAY FOR THEIR COFFEE!!!!!

    I cannot stress this enough. It may seem like common sense, but I can't tell you how often people bald-facedly take hours of someone's time at a cafe without even offering to get them a drink. It's shockingly bad manners. Whether you actually feel this way or not, this behavior says that you think the person's time isn't even worth $5. It's a small gesture that costs you almost nothing. Just do it. By the way, this applies even if the invitee is a potential employee or contractor. If you are the asker, you are the beholden.

  • 9. SAY THANK YOU.

    Thank them for their time and follow up via email. A quick summary is good for record-keeping purposes. Mention action items, if any. If there's anything you can do for them, such as making introductions yourself, offer.

  • 10. PAY IT FORWARD.

    When someone asks you for your time, give it generously. It's good for the universe.

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