We’ve covered how to ask, or not ask, for free professional advice: Don’t say “Can I pick your brain?” and do make a specific, realistic request. But when you’re on the other side of the tiny café table, take Quartz’s thoughtful advice on how to get your brain picked.
While the piece is headlined “How to politely decline” writer Rosie Spinks says a lot about when, and how, to say yes — because while you can’t spend your whole workweek getting coffee with college seniors and startup bros, you’ll make the world better by occasionally helping those below you on the career hierarchy, and you’ll further your career by occasionally doing favours for those above you.
Spinks’s most important advice is to give people the help they need, or the help you have time for, instead of the help they’re asking for:
If you decide you do want to give advice, do it on your terms. If they ask to meet for coffee and you don’t have time, send an email instead. If they ask a question that requires a novel-length answer, address one part of it, or send them some helpful links. Don’t fear being explicit that you didn’t have time to answer in full by saying something like: “Thank you for reaching out. Your question requires an answer that I unfortunately do not have time to fully address due to my work. However, you might find the following books/links/thinkers/YouTube videos helpful.”
As we recently wrote, one-line emails are more useful than no email, and they relieve you of the guilt and anxiety of just ignoring a request. Once you’ve read the request, you’ll take less time sending a quick tiny reply than you will by ignoring it and stressing about it.
While we’re here, one more tip for the advice seekers: If you’re young and broke, remember that the free coffee or lunch you’re offering means much less to the person who already has a job. Conversely, if you’re a rich bigshot asking for a free hour-long consultation, you’ll have a better chance if you invite your advice-giver to a the fanciest lunch they have had all year.