How Can I Help You? (Part Two)

Among my recent postings, few have generated as much discussion and debate as the one I authored a few weeks ago, suggesting that job hunters should go beyond the standard “How can I help you?” line and get even more proactive in offering assistance to the people they encounter in their networking efforts.

If you missed this article, make sure to read it here and scroll down to the bottom, since again, a bunch of folks sent in some great thoughts and commentary about the topic.

What’s more, I received an even more detailed e-mail about this issue just the other day from a senior executive who has been experimenting with the concept of offering specific, tangible help to the parties he comes across.  Here’s what he had to say:

“Matt – I’ve had 8 meetings / phone calls with search firms, consultants looking for help finding people, VC’s looking for help finding people, etc. over the past two months.  None of these has had an opportunity that made sense for me.  I’ve told them, however, that I personally know talented people in almost every discipline in the Seattle area who are looking for work – can I help them find the right person? 

To date, 4 people have taken me up on the offer.  For 3 of these, I have sent them an introduction or resume of a person who, on paper, fits their qualifications to a tee.  One guy even asked for help with a placement in Boston, MA, and I gave him the name of a firm that had just laid-off people just like what he was looking for in the Philadelphia, PA area!

The interesting part?  Based on the tenor of the e-mails I’ve received in return, it appears that the search firms / consultants have been highly surprised that they actually got a useful response from my offer to help.

So, should I be surprised that:

–  Only half of them took me up on the offer?
–  They didn’t really expect to get a decent response?

Another story – I was interviewing for a VP, Business Development role for a $60m division of a $1.5B public company.  The division was hoping to be spun off and go independent in the next year or so.  In preparing for the interview, I had come across some published research that laid out some interesting dynamics of the market.  During the interview with the CEO, I asked him if he was familiar with the study (he wasn’t).  At the end of the interview, I gave him a copy of the research.  He seemed surprised.  Again, are people just not expecting that anyone will actually help them?

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the job – they put my name along with another one in front of the board and they chose the other guy, but I had a great time preparing for and doing the interviews!”

The takeaway from this e-mail?  As this individual discovered, despite all of the advice about “reciprocity” out there, it appears to still be relatively rare  for people to receive sincere offers of assistance — and for the offering party to actually follow through on these commitments in a significant way.  Personally, as I tried to communicate in my previous post, I think people are “numbing up” a bit to offers of this kind that come across as vague and superficial, writing them off as polite pleasantries.  For the job hunter that goes the extra mile, however, and who positions themselves to be a value-added resource (aka “somebody worth knowing”) to recruiters and hiring managers out there, major dividends could soon follow.

What’s more, if you concentrate on helping people as much as “getting helped” yourself, you may quickly find that your attitude about the whole process improves — since while searching for a job these days can easily make one feel marginalized, finding ways to assist others goes a long way toward helping you continue to feel useful, worthwhile, and productive.  After all, the person who sent me the note above certainly sounds like he’s enjoyed the opportunity — as well as the intellectual challenge — of trying to come through in a big way for the some of the people he’s met!


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