Career Advice, Watercooler

4 Ways to Ask for Advice Without Being Annoying

Asking for help can be tough. It’s almost implicit we want something anytime we sidle up to a mentor’s desk or drop them a line, whether it’s something as simple as advice or as big as an introduction to our dream bosses. Talk about annoying.

We want to be our mentors’ star pupils—not their biggest pests. So how exactly can we bend their ears without becoming an irritating burden? Read on.

First, remember that most people become mentors because they want to give back, says Sharlyn Lauby, president of consulting firm ITM Group Inc., founder of HR Bartender, and author of Essential Meeting Blueprints for Managers. In other words, they expect you to come to them with questions and even requests for favors.

[Related: 5 Signs You’ve Got a Bad Mentor]

“That being said, it’s very natural to feel a tinge of guilt when you have a relationship that’s all take and no give,” says Lauby. And that’s why it’s smart to establish from the start that you want to give back to your mentor, too. “Ask your mentor, ‘What can I do for you?’ or ‘Is there some way I can give back to our relationship?'” Lauby suggests, and let his or her answer guide how you reciprocate his or her kindness. And then, keep these guidelines in mind any time you reach out to your mentor.

1. Figure out when your mentor likes to communicate. Not everyone is at their best in the morning—just like some people prefer to cut off communication after a certain hour. If you can figure out when your mentor prefers to talk things through, you’ll significantly reduce the rate at which you annoy him or her whenever you reach out. “And if you can’t figure it out, ask them the question,” Lauby says. “They will appreciate the respect you are giving to them and their time.”

[Related: 11 Jobs That Are More Stable Than Your Last Relationship]

2. Then figure out how your mentor likes to communicate. If your career mentor prefers to answer questions on his or her own time, asking to Skype—rather than allowing him or her the chance to email responses—may not be your best move. “Understanding how your mentor likes to communicate—whether by phone, email, Skype, or another method—is critical,” says Lauby. “Chances are good if you’re using their preferred method of communication, you’re not a bother. And vice versa.”

[Related: One Thing You Can Do To Improve Your Professional Karma]

3. Ask: Do they work well with deadlines? There’s a chance the guidance you seek is attached to a deadline. So when you reach out, ask up front if they will be available within the timeframe you’ll need an answer—don’t leave out your deadline, only to follow up a day (or an hour) later. “I’ll admit, sometimes mentors get busy and they aren’t able to live up to expectations,” says Lauby. “So both parties need to be honest about their expectations from the start.”

4. Make sure you’re being fair to your mentor. Yes, your mentor is likely more than happy to help you. “But at some point,” says Lauby, “you need to figure things out for yourself. So before you reach out to your mentor, ask yourself, ‘Is this one of those times when I need to make a decision and talk to my mentor later about what I did and how I came to that conclusion?'” And if the answer is yes, resist the urge to reach out this time around. Your mentor will appreciate you’re not taking advantage of him or her—and they’ll be proud to see you stand on your own two feet.

Another pro tip? No one said you can only have one mentor. And if you have more than one, you can spread your queries among them, based on their own expertise, say Lauby, which gives you added insurance you’re not rubbing any one mentor the wrong way. “The downside is that you have to maintain multiple relationships in order for it to be successful,” Lauby warns. “But it’s worth considering.”