Disclaimer: this is not about you. I have received many pick-your-brain emails through the years. I also volunteer a lot of time to community efforts and provide free content (like this newsletter and blog) because I believe giving back is important for sustaining an industry.
So you want to pick my brain about what I do and how I got here. Before the pandemic, you probably wanted to grab a coffee, now it’s video chats.
Maybe you want to know my history so you can go along the same path to end up where I am. Or maybe you want a checklist of things I’ve done so you, too, can have my job title. Or perhaps you’re curious about how I do what I do so you can glean that advice into your own work. All good intentions, right?
My default answer is no.
First off, I’m not against mentoring or giving advice or helping students with a look at what their degree could do (lol, I don’t have a marketing degree so…). I also recognize that this could be seen as gatekeeping knowledge, which is why I give time back to community efforts.
I am, however, against people who do not put in the research or time into the person they want to connect with and instead skip all of that and cold email ask the person.
Second, the great majority of these pick-your-brain meetings I’ve had are terrible. I can now decipher most (some slip through) emails who just want a shortcut to my career, who haven’t done their research, and who disguise the ask as a consulting session.
I have exceptions to saying no to these emails: those in my industry from marginalized backgrounds, students who are researching careers, and acquaintances/known people who I would’ve offered some time in the first place.
I won’t make you read through the lines here, because I want my words to be very clear for the next set of people who cold email me with this request. There are also tons of articles out there on how to form this ask. I hope this is also advice you can send to anyone who wants to pick someone else’s brain.
- Do your research. This is the biggest one. I am personally very Googlable with multiple interviews, podcasts, and more talking about my coffee history. And not only that, I pin/create highlights/post often on my social media platforms on my current status. A very quick perusal of my feeds would tell you that I am very overwhelmed with work and also trying hard to work on my mental health.
- Reflect: why are you asking to pick their brain? What can they help with that an article or podcast or someone else can’t?
- Know what you’re going to ask and be prepared. YOU are leading this conversation. “Tell me your history” is not an appropriate question, because it is very broad.
- Ask yourself if this person is the best fit to answer your question(s) and if your questions could just be emailed. Be detailed in why you think they’re the best fit.
- Be respectful of time: time it takes to read/answer your email, set up a meeting, and the meeting itself.
- Offer something in return. If you can’t pay for the time, pay in something else. Anything else. When we can go back to grabbing a coffee, please at least pay for the coffee.
- Acknowledge most of the above, especially if this is the first time you’ve ever interacted with the person. The more public someone is, the more likely they will ignore your request or say no.
In conclusion, be respectful of someone else’s time. And please, do not use the above as advice on emailing me… I am so overwhelmed right now that I’m just trying to stay upright.