This Is Why You Need to Stop Asking to “Pick Someone’s Brain”

Sorry, but it might actually backfire.

meetupUber Images/ShutterstockWhen you’re considering taking a different career path or trying to start your own business, you’ll want to gather all the info you can. (May we suggest starting with these 10 tips for quitting your job to follow your dreams?) But when you want to connect with a potential mentor, asking to “pick their brain” could actually work against you.

Investor and entrepreneur J. Kelly Hoey says an open-ended request like that makes her cringe. “For me, a ‘pick your brain’ email signals a lack of prep for any sort of real meeting or ongoing email exchange,” she tells Brit+Co. “Even more, it shows disregard for the value of time and hard-earned expertise.”

More than likely, the person with the impressive career you admire so much is busy—really busy. Meeting up without a specific reason will feel like a waste of time on the other professional’s part, says Hoey.

Even if you do have one main question in mind, you’re better off doing your own research. Stalk the pro’s LinkedIn and any articles to find out how they got to where they are with their career. (Meanwhile, make sure to get these LinkedIn mistakes off your own profile.) Then scour blogs and other work by them to get a sense of how they think about business. For instance, here’s what 10 female CEOs say is the best advice they’ve ever received.

To get your hero’s advice face-to-face without wasting their time, see if you can sign up for a webinar or pay for a personal coaching session, suggests Hoey. “Or, if the person you admire speaks frequently, consider attending, and have your ‘pick your brain’ question ready for the Q&A session after their formal remarks,” she says.

If your online research and hopes for a one-on-one meeting fall flat, you can definitely try shooting the person an email. When you do, though, be sure your email seems thoughtful so you can earn your hero’s respect—starting by eliminating these 9 annoying email habits. Mention something you admire about what the person has said before, then use that to lead into a specific question. But instead of expecting a detailed reply, says Hoey, ask if the person can “direct [you] to an answer.” That way, the busy professional can feel better about shooting over a blog post link instead of feeling obligated to draft a long-winded reply.

Don’t worry—missing out on face time probably won’t affect your career future. “Drop the notion that a chance meeting over lunch or sprinkling of career fairy dust will…transform your trajectory,” says Hoey. What will help, though? Working on these 17 soft skills employers look for in job applicants.

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Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s Medscape.com and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.