How to Get Advice From Your Professional Network

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Startup of You" by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Has your career come to a halt? Where you can find advice that is worthwhile?

Making a change in your career is a big step, and having other people’s insight can help you navigate tricky decisions. In The Startup of You, Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha suggest looking for advice within your professional network because those people may have gone through the same thing.

Here’s how to get advice that is worth your time and will get you the best results.

Seek Information From Your Network

When you’ve built a strong network, it can offer personalized advice and insights about your career that you won’t be able to find in books or on the internet. Like successful entrepreneurs, you must learn to extract insights from your network to navigate uncertainties, stay on top of new developments in your field, and make important career decisions. To know how to get advice, Hoffman and Casnocha advise you to practice communicating with your network regularly to best benefit from their information and expertise.

(Shortform note: While Hoffman and Casnocha suggest you communicate frequently with your network, experts suggest you be careful when consulting multiple advisors because people’s perception of you changes based on whether or not you take or ignore their advice. Studies have shown that, when advisors know that they’re one of several experts that the advice-seeker has consulted, they’re more likely to believe that their advice will be disregarded and distance themselves from the relationship. Consequently, they tend to view the advice-seeker more negatively.)

To get the best advice, Hoffman and Casnocha recommend you:

Figure out who to consult. First, consult with the most relevant experts to your situation—those most knowledgeable or experienced with what you’re dealing with. For example, if you’re considering going back to school to get another degree, reach out to someone in your network who has that degree or works in a related field. After you’ve talked with them, reach out to close allies who know you well and can help you assess the relevance of the information based on your personal situation. Additionally, consider asking people whose judgment you trust in general, as they can often provide valuable outside perspectives on your situation.

Ask good questions. When asking for advice or information, avoid making it seem like an interrogation, which might make the other person uncomfortable and prevent them from sharing rich insights. Instead, encourage a real conversation by preparing a handful of good questions such as, “What’s the most exciting development in your field these days?” Ask both broad and specific questions to get the best information. If you’re interested in discussing a topic deeply, try framing the question in a new way.

(Shortform note: In addition to asking good questions to help your contact feel comfortable, you can also try displaying open body language and mirroring how they speak (such as softly or enthusiastically). Repeat back some of their words, but don’t interrupt them mid-sentence.)

Synthesize the information. Once you’ve spoken with different people, take time to synthesize the information you received and assess what’s helpful and what’s less relevant. Since everyone has their own biases and experiences, you can get the most out of your network’s knowledge by carefully comparing different pieces of information and making sense of contradictions.

Listen to your instincts. Hoffman and Casnocha advise you to check in with your instincts before and after you consult your network. Often, you’ll have a gut feeling about a career decision. If there’s no time to discuss an opportunity with your network, the authors say you should practice feeling comfortable with making decisions based on your gut feeling.

Assess the Relevance of Your Network’s Advice

While Hoffman and Casnocha point out the different types of experts you can consult, others stress that taking in more information isn’t always better if it only confuses you or wastes your time. Therefore, it might behoove you to vet the information you receive to gauge its relevance and helpfulness to you before implementing it. 

You can do this by considering what type of advice your contact is giving you. They can provide you with data, information, or knowledge, whose value and relevance to you ascend in that order. Alternatively, you can simply heed your instincts when talking to a contact. Let’s look at how to best analyze each type of advice. 

Using just your instincts: When you receive information (like an email about enrolling in an online degree program), first try to make sense of it according to your instincts. Decisions made by instincts can be done quickly, but are more risky. Like Hoffman and Casnocha point out, sometimes you have little information to go on and must make decisions based on your gut instincts. Consider how you’d feel if your decision was publicized, which might add another level of clarity as to what option is best for you. For example, if you’re considering going back to school, first assess the reasons based on your instincts.

Data: When consulting your network, your connections might provide you with raw facts and statistics. Data can help inform your decisions, but you should avoid basing your decisions entirely on data because they can be incomplete or inaccurate depending on the context. For example, your contacts might provide you with facts about the degree you’re interested in, such as the credit requirements or the salary of potential careers.

Information: Information is data that others have added context and meaning to. When you ask people in your network questions, as Hoffman and Casnocha suggest, they can help you make sense of data and turn it into more valuable pieces of information that you can give more weight to when making decisions. For example, your contacts can provide added context and personal opinions about the data you’ve gathered, such as whether the credit requirements are too demanding for your existing lifestyle.

Knowledge: Experts argue that you should give the most weight to knowledge—information that has been analyzed or validated that you can act upon. Knowledge might be the culmination of your conversations with your contacts—once you’ve received data and information, analyze and synthesize the information you’ve received in a way that makes sense to your life.

When assessing for biases, as Hoffman and Casnocha recommend, consider whether the person you’re talking to is credible and whether they’re giving you data, information, or knowledge. Then, determine if they might have any hidden agendas that could be affecting what they’re communicating to you.
How to Get Advice From Your Professional Network

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Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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