The Art of the Ask: Make it an experience, not a transaction

It can be tough to get a person’s attention. Emails are buried in a pile of a hundred unread messages, and quickly checked and deleted between meetings.

It’s more challenging to get a response. The next time you sit down to write a cold email, think about how you’re framing your request.

The golden rule of professional networking is to make the other person feel valued, avoid making them feel used.

It’s the difference between:

“Hey, I need to hire some good engineers, who do you know?”


“I’m having some trouble recruiting engineers, and see you’ve built a great team. I would love to take you out for coffee, or five minutes of your phone time, to learn about how I could improve my process.”

The first approach may seem efficient, but it won’t help you build a relationship. It’s focused only on what you want.

The second message may be longer  and possibly asks more. However, it’s full of positive messages.

Be Vulnerable

It’s OK to admit you’re struggling with something. And your contact is more likely to respond if they can relate to your situation.

Be Thoughtful

Recognizing a person’s accomplishments is not strait brown-nosing. It shows that you’re familiar with their work, and probably not sending blanket emails to everybody in the industry.

Be Thankful

By offering a coffee, or acknowledging their busy schedule, and respecting their time, you express appreciation from the outset. You are much more likely to get a message back, even if it declines your request, which allows you to continue the relationship.

All this is to say — put yourself in the other person’s shoes. How do you want to be treated when someone reaches out to you? How might your request make the other person feel? If you treat professional networking as less of a transaction and more of an experience— an interaction between two real people with real feelings — you’ll be much more likely to get the help you need.