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Winners Ask For What They Want

By Marty Nemko

Eric Ganther is a career coach specializing in gay men. He wanted to increase his business, so he printed up a flyer and handed them out on San Francisco’s Castro Street. It got him new clients. That day.

Sandy Silberman wanted to be a makeup artist but didn’t want to starve at $10 an hour working in a department store. So she approached a high-end beauty salon and asked if she could rent a small space to do makeovers and sell cosmetics. They said yes. Now, her business, “Let’s Make Up” earns her 10 times what she made in her previous job--selling toilet paper for Scott Paper.

Fourteen years ago, I decided I wanted to host a radio talk show, so I sent a homemade demo tape to two station managers. I’ve been on KALW-FM ever since.

Most successful people ask for what they want. If they want to work for a company, they call and try to get an appointment with one of its big shots. If they need advice about whether to pursue a career, they e-mail questions of one of the field’s gurus. If they need expertise to better do their jobs and can’t find it using Google or a trade publication, they call an expert.

Yes, more often than not, even winners get turned down—a lot-- but they realize that being turned down costs them nothing. They simply ask someone else, and someone else, and someone else, until they get what they want. Or until they realize after having made a number of calls, that they’ve barking up the wrong tree, and find something else to ask about.

Losers, on the other hand, don’t act; they ruminate.

For example, losers worry they’ll sound stupid. Winners realize that with a bit of rehearsal, they probably won’t sound stupid, and even if they do, there always are other people to call.

Losers worry about imposing. Winners realize that the imposition is just one minute. If the person feels imposed on, he or she can simply say no. If the person agrees to help, that’s their choice—and indeed, many people enjoy helping. Think about it: without worrying about imposing, nearly everyone has stopped a stranger on the street asking for directions. Phoning someone with a career-related question is a no bigger imposition than that.

Some losers worry they’ll succeed. If so, they might have to take a job that is difficult, which takes time from their family, or which makes them more successful than their spouse or other family member, which would sadden that other person. Such losers worry themselves into inaction and failure. Winners realize that their failing ultimately doesn’t improve their family members’ lives.

So, how do you move yourself from reluctant asker to enthusiastic one? Try one or more of these:

1. Make a list of the benefits versus the liabilities of making that call.

2. Imagine the worst case. Could you survive?

3. Rehearse. Script your pitch; then reduce it to a brief outline. Use the outline to practice into a cassette or CD recorder. Role-play with a trusted person. Then call your least desired contact first. Only when you’ve smoothed your routine, call your prime leads.

4. Be simple and straightforward on the phone. No long stories necessary. For example, “I was a software manager but was downsized with 30 of my co-workers. I’m trying to find a niche where there might be some hiring going on. Any advice?”

5. Make the phone call a pleasure for the other person. Thank her profusely and listen for opportunities to help her.

Advice I’d Give My Daughter

Resist going into therapy to cure your analysis paralysis. This week, I was on a panel at the Commonwealth Club with Dr. Tara Fields, a well-known Marin relationship therapist. Even Tara, who makes her living helping people to analyze the long-standing reasons for their behavior, agreed that no matter what your mother did to you, no matter what your husband does to you, no matter what scars you bear, you’ve got to stop looking back and start looking forward, asking yourself, “Who should I call to move my career ahead?” She says, “Feel the fear, if you must, but do it anyway.”

My question to you: Who should you call? Do it now.

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