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I get tons of daily emails asking for help. These mistakes stop me from replying.
Every time I’ve been especially successful at anything in life, I can look back and pinpoint the moment someone agreed to mentor me, even if I didn’t know it at the time.
Getting into Oxford? Thanks, Ms. Forsyth. Succeeding at blogging? Couldn’t have done it without Tom Kuegler. Getting into my current dream job? Chris, the postdoc who sat next to me, never failed to answer my exasperated sighs with an offer to help.
My point is that mentors are incredibly helpful for achieving just about anything you can set your mind too, from jobs to side hustles to school. This is what makes it so surprising that so many people mess this golden opportunity up.
Now that I’ve achieved some accolades of my own, I’m frequently asked for help. More often than not, the folks asking for a favor make it downright difficult for me to help them. If you don’t want to force your future potential mentor to ignore you, don’t make these three mistakes.
1. When You Bury the Question in a Wall of Text
This is the most common mistake I see. Many emails that I get are simply a blob of unstructured words. I have to spend several minutes reading the text, parsing it into something that makes sense to me, and actually chiseling out the request from the mass of backstory, compliments, and unnecessary fluff.
It’s not that this makes me not want to help — it just makes it a lot harder for me. After a long day, if I get an email that creates more work for me upfront — even if it’s a lovely request — I’m way more likely to delete the email and go play with my cats.
By streamlining your request, whatever it is, you make it easy for your future potential mentor to help you.
2. When You Think You Deserve It
This one irritates me the most: when someone sends me an email saying that they need my help and that I need to reply to them and that they need to make money by writing online.
My Biology teacher, Ms. Forsyth, was an extremely busy woman. That’s what made it even more amazing that she actually took the time to help me. I tried my best to never take her for granted.
The person you want to be your mentor is equally swamped with work, responsibilities, and ten other emails asking for their help. When you send them a request that implies they owe you their time, they probably won’t like it — and they probably won’t reply. Instead, make it clear that you value their assistance
3. When You Ask a Question With an Obvious Answer
This one is the mystifies me the most, because google dot com is free. This ask comes in two forms.
First, there’s the generic blanket request. “How can I make money writing online?”
I dedicate a solid chunk of my life creating content that answers that exact question, so when I receive it, I’m left a bit confused. Has this individual not read my body of work? What else is missing? A more specific question would have been more helpful to me in addressing their question.
Then, there’s the question that I’ve already answered somewhere.
What this says to me is the individual is looking to be spoon-fed the answers without doing any work on their own. Even if it’s not the case, that’s the assumption I make. For that reason, it’s worth underlining the effort you’ve put into this on your own, and what you’ve already tried.
Every time I’ve shown I’m willing to do the legwork and at least make an attempt, my future mentor has taken me more seriously. It’s harder to do, but the results pay off.
So what does a good mentorship request look like?
I’ve covered all the biggest mistakes I see: when people create more work for their future mentor; when they write as though they think they’re owed your help; and when they prove they haven’t actually done any research before asking for your assistance.
Instead of telling what does work, I’m going to paste an email here I recently received that I answered right away:
Hi Zulie, You are my Medium.com mentor. I’m watching and reviewing your YouTube videos to learn how to get onto and get ranked on Medium. But I have a third-grader question, and I am embarrassed about it. I’m one of those old guys who is not a member of the computer-savvy generation. I mean, I know how to use the computer to write and all, but there are a couple of things I have not been able to learn — mainly because I don’t know how to ask the question on Google. I’m hoping you’ll help me. I don’t know how to 1.) find a fingernail photo for use on Medium, and 2.), I don’t know how to transfer it from the place it onto to get it onto Medium. Will you help me, please? Thank you. P.S. I hope you’re surviving the quarantine.
This question accomplished several things.
First, the author of this email clearly laid out their questions. I could skim the email and still see what they were asking for.
Second, they asked for help — they didn’t demand it.
Third, this pointed to a gap in the content I had created while emphasizing the fact that they had actually looked for the answer and were still having trouble. This question may have seemed silly to the author, but it actually doesn’t have an intuitive answer. I was so inspired by this question that I created a short video about it to help others who may have the same question.
In short, the request was easy to spot, humble, and not only a good question, but valuable to me as a content creator. Those are all the notes you want to strike when you shoot your shot, and ask someone online for help.
Written by Zulie Zane