Help Me Help You!

Here’s a quick sample of messages I received in the last couple of weeks from (mostly young) people looking for help.

Looking for an internship…

I am ___, recent graduate in ___, for personal reason I am trying to move in the Bay Area. […] that’s why I am searching for an internship (also unpaid) to network with companies there. […] I am wondering if you are able to give me some useful information/contact within your network that provides internships or exchange opportunities. If you think you can help me, I can send you a copy of my resume. Looking for a job…

or…

I am looking for internships in startups or consultancy or financial services. I expect to graduate in my Master degree in ___ in 2014, so finding an internship this winter might help me to have an opportunity for next year. Thank you!

Looking for a job…

Hello, My name is ___, I am ___years old and I just graduated in ___ from the University of ___. […] I was wondering if you knew about any job openings I could apply to with my degree and that could allow me to exploit my double citizenship.

Looking for business contacts…

I am ___, Marketing Manager of ___. , a startup  operating in the ___ industry. Next week I will be in Silicon Valley to meet with ___ companies to explore partnership opportunities. We are confident that we could benefit much from key partnerships with ___ companies and we’d like to ask you to maybe help us present and introduce our project.  I would appreciate it if you could help us connect with potential partners or just give us some suggestions or addresses.

It is just an extreme sample, but there is a pattern. A lot of this help requests make it virtually impossible for me, or anyone really, to help.  A few reasons:

  • Inward focus. The messages tell me why the job/internship/contacts are great for the sender, which is great but does very little to stir my interest. I do not (yet) have an emotional connection with you, so I frankly do not care enough (yet) to jump into action.
  • Too generic an objective. What comes through is often someone who does not really know exactly what they are looking for.  How can I help in any way if I do not know what you want to achieve?
  • WIITFT?. What’s In It For Them. They often lack any indication of what value the person is bringing to the table. What are you good at? What are your top skills? The expertise you offer? If no values is expressed, there is nothing to offer to a prospective employer or business partner.

So how can anyone maximize the chances that I (or anyone) may be able to help?

  1. Start with your value proposition.  One short, crisp paragraph about how cool, valuable, expert you are (or your project is). Ideally you want to get an intro from a trusted source, but frankly I know it is work, so I am not big on that one. It is that simple.
  2. Be (extremely) specific. Tell in as specific a way as possible what kind of company, position, person, business you want to get in contact with and why. Specifically! e.g. “I am looking to sit down for a meeting with the CMOs of company A, Company B or Company C in the next 2 weeks to learn directly from them this and that…”
  3. Tell me what you want me to do. Be explicit about the kind of help you would ideally want from me and also give me a plan B if I can’t. e.g. “Would you be willing to introduce me to Jeff or one of the members of his team via email? If that is not possible or advisable maybe you can introduce me to someone else at Company A that you think would be the right person to talk to.”
  4. Reduce the risk. The less I know about you, the higher the risk I am taking in helping you. After all there is always the possibility you may be a bozo or a nuisance. If possible, you should try to reduce or eliminate that risk in the back of my mind. “e.g. You can ask such and such about me. I am sure they will tell you how professional I am. I promise I will only ask your contacts for 15 minutes of their time. I will let you know how it goes next week.”

Help me help you, please. Thank you.