Asking For Help: Critical Career Skill

While this may come as a surprise, one of the most common challenges I’ve observed among job hunters is the struggle many of them have in simply reaching out and asking for help — and doing so in a proper, professional way.  This tendency, if you have it, can present a severe limitation to the overall success of your search efforts, since there are few times in life when asking for favors from those around you will be as urgent or important of an activity.

These being said, I thought I’d quickly throw together and publish a quick list of “best practices” in terms of how professionals should generally approach situations where they need to reach out and request a favor from another person in their network:

1. DO have a clear agenda and be very specific in terms of the help you want/need when reaching out to people; remember, you’re the one requesting the favor, so don’t make your contact guess what you want or try to figure out your agenda, hidden or otherwise; any lack of clarity in this step either will lead you to get brushed off or will limit the amount of useful feedback and referrals you receive

2. DON’T ask people to do basic things you could do yourself; for example, don’t ask people to suggest the names of some companies around town that might benefit from your skills in marketing, since you could easily prepare such a list yourself in just an hour of two of Internet research; if others get the sense that you’re not carrying your own weight, they’ll be much less inclined to lend a hand

3. DO bend over backwards to show respect for peoples’ time; for starters, make sure to clarify the amount of time you’ll need from them when making the initial help request, and just as importantly, honor this time commitment once you actually sit down with them; remember, not many people today have an abundance of free time on their hands, so you’ve got to convince them that it’s worth donating some of their time and attention to your needs, rather than some other priorities they may have on their plate

4. DON’T ask for help and then ignore/disregard it; if somebody gives you a referral, for example, and then hears that you never followed up with the person in question, you’ve probably burned that bridge permanently; make sure to take notes, follow up on any/all advice offered, and show the individual that you’re eminently worthy of future referrals and assistance

5. DO show appropriate thankfulness after any help is received, whether this involves simply thanking the person verbally and offering to return the favor, or something more substantial, like sending them a card or a token gift, if the help given was “above and beyond” in nature; you don’t have to go overboard with this step, but remember, the main reason the person is probably assisting you is that they want to actually feel helpful; so why not take active measures to reinforce this?

On this note, remember, it was the illustrious Ben Franklin who once observed: “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.”  The modern translation?  Probably something along the lines of: “There is no better way to get people to do you future favors than to LET them do you a quality favor in the first place.”  This paradoxical dynamic, in fact, is actually known as the “Ben Franklin Effect” in psychological circles — and you can read a little more about it here, if you’re interested!


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