Previously I wrote about how to follow up from an initial contact and how to keep in touch with a new contact in the long term. But what happens when you need something from someone in your network? How can you make a request to one of your contacts without overstepping the line?

If you work hard at maintaining your contacts you will have an easier job when you eventually need to ask for help. But sometimes connections fall through the cracks. It happens to everyone. What should you do if you’re not feeling so well connected to the person whose help you need?

When you are asking for a favour you should first remember that your contacts want to help you! They like you! Put yourself in your shoes and think of how flattered you would be to be able to help a young person up the career ladder. (Note to future self – be helpful to other people!)

There definitely some points to remember that will ensure that you don’t irritate your contact when making your request. You should:

  • Be very polite!
  • Spell it out. Don’t leave them to draw conclusions themselves.
  • Ask! Don’t assume they will be able to help you.
  • Leave them face-saving way out.

Below is an example of how you might make a polite request to your contact:

1: Stick with the formal greeting unless you have had an explicit signal to take a more informal approach.

2: Outline the purpose of your email. You’re not just sending an update. Make that clear.

3: Give some context to your request. What is on your mind? What are you hoping to achieve?

4: Ask the question! Even though you have made it clear at the top that you are asking for advice, you need to ask a direct question. Otherwise you are leaving your contact to draw conclusions for themselves. It might feel too direct and therefore rude to ask a question outright, but it’s not. It’s actually rude not to ask directly because you leave the person to make assumptions and figure out what you want. That takes up more of their time and can be very annoying.

Of course it is possible to make a direct request without asking a question because life is never simple. For this I normally use the phrase “I would be grateful if”. For example, “I would be grateful if you could please review my CV and send me any comments that you might have.”

5: Let them off the hook. Everyone is busy and there are a myriad of reasons why your contact might not be able or willing to help. In order to help smooth your relationship in the future give them a way out of this request. By acknowledging that they are very busy you give an easy ‘out’.


The bottom line is that if you don’t ask you don’t get. Don’t be shy. Definitely be polite.

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