‘Excuse me, I think you’re awesome. I want to know how you got started in your career.’
‘Ug. You’re awful. Leave me alone you scallywag.’ **Blocks you***
Worst-case scenario right? And HIGHLY unlikely to happen. Approaching someone because you’re impressed by what they do is flattering. As long as you’re not asking them for free work or hours of their time, it’s fine to approach someone and ask for advice.
Enough of letting shyness hold us back. We’ve put together a list of etiquette and useful do’s and don’ts for approaching professionals for career advice.
Step one: Research
Stalk them on LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok etc. Take a look at their creative work, job titles, volunteer roles, connections, and the companies and influencers they follow. The timeline of how they started their career can be a great first step to look at. LinkedIn is the god of mapping this out for you.
Once you understand their career path and art check out who they’ve worked with and what they do. Are they the kinds of organisations you’d like to work with? If so, look at any events and opportunities they have, and who else they’re connected to.
Step two: Draft your message
It could be a direct email, a message through their website, a DM on LinkedIn or another social site. Keep it short and friendly. Make sure you include the following points in your message:
Tell them why you picked them. Is it their current job role, their style of art, or their career path? It’s always flattering to hear why someone likes what you do.
Respect their time and don’t over-ask. You’re not asking them for a free shadow day or an entire meal out. You’re asking for their advice, whether they want to give this in person, over the phone or by message. It's their choice.
Tell them about you. What are you doing right now? What does your Arts Award involve? What interests and inspires you? What do you want to be doing in the future?
Be clear on your ask. A 10-minute phone call, a quick coffee, or an email interview? Or sign-posting to some resources and organisations to contact?
Step three: Be brave and make the approach
Send a message! Just do it. Click send on that email/text/DM. What’s the worst that could happen?
Don’t fear rejection
Approach a few people at once and ask them for their time. Always assume the best if someone doesn’t reply. They’re simply busy. They haven’t read your message. An assistant read it and deleted it before they read it. They're busy doing their washing.
Even with the best intentions it can take people some time to respond to an email or DM. Give them space and time to reply, and if it’s been longer than 4 weeks give them a little nudge. If you need a reply from them quickly for a project you’re working on, let them know in your first message.
Step four: Stay in touch
Whether they agree to your ask or not, always stay in touch. Never underestimate the power of a network when it comes to forging a career path.
That’s all. Do your research, write your message and be brave. Good luck!