For the first time, I’m at a point in my career where younger people are reaching out to me for advice as much as I am reaching out to others. This is 30, I guess.
Reaching out to people for advice is something I love doing. Sometimes it’s a gut check. But other times, the strangers or acquaintances I turn to for advice have helped me navigate a turning point, given me encouragement to try a path I had never considered or helped me make a decision when I hit a fork in the road.
Receiving the wisdom of a knowing elder has been one of the most valuable things I’ve done for myself. However, I never thought about what my mentors might want back from me.
That’s why I’m so glad I came across a piece of advice from Tiffany Dufu, It wasn’t until I heard her interview on The Call, a podcast hosted by Erica Williams Simon, that I realized how foolish and short-sighted it is to “pick someone’s brain.”
Tiffany talks about the much bigger opportunity we could be cultivating in these professional relationships. It is hands down the best advice about advice I have ever come across. Let me share it with you now.
Tiffany Dufu’s advice to advice seekers
Many advice-seekers reach out for advice and never follow up with a thank you note.
I know, because I have written quite a few long form emails to younger professionals who contact me looking to learn how I got to this point of my career…and never heard back again.
If you’re requesting busy people to take time out of their lives to talk to you, you should have the manners to follow up with a thank you note. If you’re not doing this, the bare minimum, Tiffany’s advice is not for you.
That is because Tiffany’s advice is to follow up three times.
Not once. Not twice. Three is the magic number. Why? Because that is what it takes to turn you into a superstar in the minds of your mentors.
Here’s Tiffany’s advice on asking for advice (slightly paraphrased):
You ask someone for advice about something. You take their advice, you listen and you express gratitude. Then come back to them a month later or a few months later. You’re going to remind them what they told you, let them know the difference that it made and you’re going to express gratitude. Then you’re going to ask them again for another piece of advice and they’re going to give it to you.
You’re going to let time go by, loop back with them and keep them posted. You’re going to do that 3 times over the course of 1.5 years – and you’ll be a superstar to them. You’ll be someone they keep on top of mind. You’re going to be someone who they believe that if they invest in you, they’re going to get a return on their investment.
When your message, your insight and your experience can touch someone so deeply that they can repeat it back to you years later, what is more impactful than that?
There’s nothing complicated about this, she adds.
People want to invest in people they feel they have an impact on. Besides, following up with your one-time advisors can turn them into something even more impactful: your sponsors.
You become a superstar, they become your sponsor
At the root of this advice is Tiffany’s observation that mentors play a very different role than sponsors in our careers. Mentors are people who guide you and give you wisdom. They could be your basketball coach, your aunts or your teacher.
Sponsors are people whose primary value comes from what they say about you when you’re not in the room. As in, the board room. The interview room. The decision room.
For those of you networking and advice-seeking in your industry, that could mean access to an internship, a job, a new connection, an invitation to an event that could change the course of your career.
Tiffany says that twice a week, she meets with women seeking career help from her. She estimates that out of the thousand women that she has engaged with over all those meetings, only a dozen keep her posted.
“I’ve got my dozen superstars that I’m always thinking about, thinking about opportunities for,” she says.
Why we follow up, follow up and follow up again
Why don’t advice-seekers follow up more? Is it because we believe that the people we are reaching out to don’t want to be bothered by us again?
That’s simply not true. If they have taken the time to speak with you, that’s a sign that they do care. They have signaled that they are open to investing in you – and it’s up to you to take that as a cue.
Even now, as I start to take on the role of advisor and mentee for a younger generation, I know that I would be happy to know that my investment has made a difference. I don’t think I would ever forget it.
With so few doing the work of following up, who would?
“People don’t follow up with people, and I used to think that was a bad thing,” says Tiffany. “But now I think it’s a beautiful thing. Because if you’re the kind of person who follows up with people, you actually stand out.”
P.S. Listening to Erica Williams Simon’s podcast The Call is like being in an intimate gathering with the smartest, most accomplished women around. If you feel like you’ve hit a fork in the road or just feel kind of lost, this podcast may have a profound impact on you, like it did for me.