We’ve all heard the adage, “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” Conventional wisdom accepts this as the truth, and in most college and university programs “networking” is emphasized as an important part of breaking into any job industry. Having a large network of people in your academic and professional life is great – but, at some point, you have to take advantage of having all these great contacts. Yet, when it comes down to it, asking your network of instructors, friends, family, and colleagues for a leg up in your career search isn’t just difficult, it can be downright debilitating.

Here are five tips to make the process of asking for help easier and more effective:

1. Remember, People Want to Help

If you could help someone in your position, wouldn’t you?

People want to help, and they especially want to help young people. A lot of established professionals are eager to take on mentees. It is flattering when someone asks for advice or influence. Plus, every single one of the people you are asking for help had to ask for similar help or advice at some point to get to where they are now. Assume that people will jump at the opportunity to pay it forward to someone young and eager, like yourself.

2. Be Polite and Be Direct

Are you asking for advice? A job? A reference? Be clear in your intentions. If you just want information then ask for a one-on-one coffee meeting. If you are seeking a reference or a potential job then make that clear in your initial contact, whether via email or one-on-one.

No one can give you what you need or want if you don’t ask for it, and nobody likes being misled nor do they appreciate having their time wasted. Whether it’s a professor or an executive in a top-firm, everyone is busy and will appreciate efficiency and forthrightness.

3. Have All the Information

Just like you would for a job interview, be prepared before you seek information or help. Know who you are talking to, what their role is, and make sure you know a bit about their job and/or company. If you are speaking to an instructor or professor it may help to have your academic history on hand. Be ready to answer questions about yourself, about your past and about your intentions for the future.

4. Be Confident!

You deserve a great career. You’ve worked hard. You’ve done your research. So, enter into conversations about your future with confidence! It will be much easier for others to believe in you, if you show that you believe in yourself.

5. Don’t Expect Handouts

Just because you know the boss, doesn’t mean you’re going to have an easy ride. No matter how you get a job, or who helped you get it, you will be expected to work for your position. You have laid the groundwork by impressing someone important and/or influential, still any good employer will make you earn your way.

Any job worth having is worth working hard for.

6. Take Rejection in Stride

There are many reasons someone might say no. They might not think their help is appropriate. They might not have the influence or information you require. They might be spread too thin. No matter the reason, learning to handle rejection is one of the most important lessons of adulthood. And remember, if at first, you don’t succeed… just keep asking!

Asking for help, favour, or even advice can seem awkward. But getting over this fear is integral to your future success. Remember to always ask yourself – what is the worst thing that could happen? In most cases, people will simply give you a generic answer, and you’ll move on. So let go of your fears and start asking!

About the author

India McAlister is a recent graduate of Sheridan College’s Journalism - New Media postgraduate program and received her Honours Bachelor’s of Arts in History from the University of Toronto. She currently lives and Toronto where she works in television production and also freelances as a writer, editor and social media coordinator. She is passionate about the arts, gender equity, and the Toronto Maple Leafs.