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People Want To Help You – It’s Your Job To Help Them Help You

May 9th, 2008

I wrote this article for The National Networker, where I’ve been a contributing columnist for over a year (on the right of this page you can see all my previous articles). I rarely put my articles from there as blog posts, although this one in particular has come up in all of my presentations since I wrote the article.

I really, truly believe that people want to help us. Even though we (as job seekers) feel like lepers, losers, and even as if we’ve lost our place in society, people want to help. In fact, I doubt they think we are the loser that we think we are… I hope you enjoy this article. If you like it, you can subscribe to The National Networker for free here.

When I first got laid off I was sure there were people who would want to help me land that next gig. I heard that networking was key, and there were people I already knew who would be willing and anxious to help me.

However, the help did not come. Not the way I expected it. I didn’t understand that as a job seeker, people would walk on egg shells around me. They would politely ask how I was doing, or how the job search was going.

But the discussions never got past superficial. It got tiring repeating “we’re fine, things are going good,” and things like that. And people usually left it at that.

I was neglecting a key aspect of networking: asking. Not because I wasn’t asking for help, but I was asking the right way.

I, like you, have certain responsibilities in helping people help you. In reality, they want to help you. They don’t want to walk on eggshells around you, but they might not know how to really help you. Here are some ideas to make this work better for you and your friends.

First, make sure they know and understand what you need. You have the responsibility to go beyond superficial, which might be a little uncomfortable at first. It’s about as uncomfortable as bragging about yourself. It’s about as uncomfortable as selling yourself in an interview. But it’s as necessary!

You need to know what you need and be able to clearly communicate that to your contacts. When they ask “how’s the job search going?” it’s better to respond with an answer that helps them help you. Instead of saying “fine,” how about saying “it’s going well. I’m looking for people who work at American Express or eBay – do you know anyone who works there?”

I found that asking for specific information really helps people think for you. Instead of saying “I’m in accounting,” let them know where you want to work, and ask if they know anyone who works there.

Second, make it easy for them to help you. They walk on eggshells because they don’t quite know what to say. It’s about as uncomfortable as asking someone about their cancer treatment, or the death of a loved one. People don’t want to dig into a fresh wound, so help them be comfortable around you. Even if you have known them for years, you have to help them feeling comfortable getting past that “fresh wound” issue.

How do you do this? Stay light-hearted about your situation. Show them that you are optimistic. But don’t put on a façade… remain genuine. Just don’t cross the line and whine and complain. I remember an HR manager who I was close to, who I felt I could vent to. I’ll never forget, towards the end of our discussion, he said something like “Jason, never forget something. HR can smell blood a mile away.” Even though we were close, he helped me understand that I needed to maintain the proper brand, which was that of a professional, not a wounded animal.

Third, be quick to thank, quick to forgive, and quick to reciprocate. You are a professional, right? You are not a beggar, or a leper (no offense intended, of course). Professionals are thankful, and express gratitude. As a professional, you can’t afford to hold a grudge, and you recognize that people aren’t out to spite you. If they cross you, or don’t follow-up on something critical to your job search, give them the benefit of the doubt. And finally, make sure you reciprocate. But don’t wait for your contacts to add value to you – be the first to give value to them!

Your friends want to help you. New network contacts want to help you. You just have to help them, make them feel comfortable, and let them know what they need to do to help you. I’d love to know how you invite others to help you – please send me an e-mail and let me know what you do!

That’s it – I hope that helps you readjust your perspective, and understand what role others can play!

9 Comments »

9 responses to “People Want To Help You – It’s Your Job To Help Them Help You”

  1. If you send someone a direct message in Twitter should you forgive them?

  2. Sorry, see I’m apologizing. That should read “If you send someone a direct message in Twitter and they don’t answer, should you forgive them.” I mean, is it the professional thing to do, to act against your feelings? Or is it more professional not to have those feelings in the first place?

  3. Sabrina says:

    Well said. Throwing resumes at everyone in sight is not networking – you are scaring everyone away. Help them understand what you are interested in – and show interest in what they are doing. Look for mentors and mentor others. Recruiters can be your best friends – help them with contacts that you have that can help them “close a sale” – you show your value. Don’t stop when you land – keep it up and your network will be there when you need them.

  4. I am an employeed networker, digging the well before I’m thirsty.

    Thus I’ve read this post from the perspective of being a person lending a hand to those in transition. I’ve had the following frequent experience after meeting some one that is in transition at a networking event. There is a free flowing bi-directional flurry of email for the first few weeks, then I get no replies and communications go silent. For those in transition I set a Jibber Jobber action item to follow up at least once a month so I don’t forget to follow-up with them. After 2 or 3 months of no replies I wonder what happened. Did they get a job and forget to update their LinkedIn profile?

    I’ve wondered if it was me. Did I inflict any pain or was I to pushy? For the few that I did eventually reconnect with it did appear they didn’t know how to ask for help or it seemed they thought I couldn’t help them. The later may be due to the misconception that networking can provide instant results. However the former of course is the theme of this post.

    This post had me pondering how can a giver help those in transition that say, “things are fine”. Now when I hear or read that I know it is an opportunity to ask for more details. Since stating “things are fine” doesn’t give me any information to know how I can help. On the other hand, some times I have asked the direction question of “How can I help you?” and I don’t get an answer. I suspect that may partly be due to people not doing a targeted job search and instead are throwing their resume into the black hole by just looking for any job listing that they think their resume might be a match for. If the job searcher doesn’t have a targeted plan it certainly makes it difficult to help to help them.

    It may some times be difficult to ask and answer questions when some one is in transition. But I have found that asking questions of your networking contacts to be the most succesful aspect toward building relationships! Of course follow-up and providing value are the next steps but if questions aren’t asked you may never leave the starting gate toward building a valuable trusted relationship.

  5. Mark Olsen says:

    Jason – as always great post/article.

    Exactly – you have to fill a need for them not just toss a resume at them or look desperate.

    Its all about marketing yourself. You really do have to sell yourself – overdo it – tell the interviewer point blank – I can do this job better than anyone else – here’s why and how. Then when you are done and you are finishing up – stand up shake their hand and pause – Fred, I can do this job and I will make you proud.

    Mark

  6. […] Alba has written a really helpful blog post (also published as an article in The National Networker) that provides some very specific ways to […]

  7. Thank you for sharing this, Jason. I really needed to read it today.

  8. Excellent points. Reminds me of a conversation I overheard on a train a few weeks ago, which illustrates your points exactly. (Stop Muddling Through Your Job Search – Get Focused!)

    You have to help people help you by being clear about what you want or are looking for.

    Thanks for all you do Jason.

    Marcie

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