Seek to Be a Helper First
It may seem a little counterintuitive to be actively looking to HELP others when you, in fact, are the one that needs help, but that is what you should be doing. Hear me out.
Let's start here - as a general rule, you should try not to be a selfish jerk, at least not all the time. Can we all agree on that? OK.
I mentioned this a little bit earlier in the series, but I wanted to highlight it in its own section. Everyone that you talk to is going to understand that you NEED something. A job. It is your responsibility to also let everyone you talk to know that you are a good global citizen and business networking participant - you will not only be a taker, but be willing to give of yourself by assisting others.
File this one under - BE A BETTER HUMAN.
How many times have you been asked for some kind of assistance over email? I promise I will not let this devolve into another discussion about the implicit contract in any email "ask." If you are interested in that, as well as several ways to make email in your organization suck a little bit less, please feel free to read my blog post on the matter, and if you really want to help your company out, bring me in for a lunch and learn about it. Better yet, bundle it with one of my other talks and make it a workshop!
Anyway, you get an email asking for assistance with a job search. And you, like most of us, take the path of least resistance, a simple, noncommital response that gets you off the hook and leaves the door open for you to do something, or nothing, depending on whether you value that person and want to help, or don't. We have all seen, and probably used, this response before:
Let me see what I can do and get back to you.
Wow - that is a weak response. The lack of leadership and general adulting required to type ONLY those 12 words just makes my blood boil. If a toddler talked that way to you, you would immediately stop and explain the proper way.
This is a binary exercise. You care about helping the person enough to do it...or you do not. To give that tired response does nothing other than let that person know that you MOST LIKELY do not really want to help them, but are too weak to just come out and say it.
The next time someone sends you that "I have found myself on the job market - feel like helping me out" email, or any other email with an "ask" in it, I would highly encourage you to handle that email a little bit differently. Here are a few options, in order of preference.
Option 1: Help Them Now
This one is simple. Take the time out of your day to give genuine consideration to the question they asked and help them out. Help them straight away. Or ask some clarifying questions and start a dialogue, like a grown up. You would be surprised how little time this takes and how much appreciation it fosters.
Think about this one in the context of a job search. Someone is looking for a job and reaches out to 50 people. If you are one of the very few (I have no reaearch, but I would guess it is literally less than 5 out of 50, or 10%, on average) that chooses this option, and you respond to them the first time with some actual help, or suggestions, or whatever...how much do think that person will appreciate that? More importantly, how likely do you think that person would be willing to return the favor and help you in the future?
Option 2: Defer
This option is a very subtle, but huge, differece from the 12-word blow-off mentioned above. See if you can spot the difference. Square bracketed text is optional, other text is not.
[I don't know of anything off the top of my head.] Let me do some thinking and get back to you. If you don't hear back from me by (insert reasonable time hack here), please feel free to reach out again and remind me. I want to help you any way I can.
This is the way an ADULT handles this. There is an actual commitment to assisting, and a suggested course of action if they do not hear back from you.
Option 3: Refer
An action passed is an action completed. While I don't always agree with that, in this case, that statement rings true. The person asking for assistance with a job will greatly appreciate anything solid that comes their way, and will remember that you helped them and started a conversation that led to something, not that you kicked them over to someone else because you did not want to help them.
In fact, there is a legitimate term for this in the job searching world. It is called a REFERRAL. Hey - that term literally contains the title of this option. Neat.
Option 4: Do Not Help
This is a perfectly viable option. You have ANSWERED THE QUESTION. Depending on the situation, how well you know the person, and how much of a jerk you are (or want to be), you can use whatever kind of language you want here.
What is NOT viable is the 12-word blow-off. Have enough intestinal fortitude to at least answer the question if you cannot, or do not want to, help. Especially if it is the former. If you are completely busy, or if you know that no one in your close network is looking for someone with the skills of the asker, then say THAT, vice the 12-word blow-off.
Remember, at the root level, this is binary. You want to help, or you do not. If you use the 12-word blow-off, knowing that you probably CAN'T help, you are leaving behind a message that you did not WANT to help, but were TOO WEAK to be honest.
Instead, how about something like this?
Sorry, Joe. I wish I could help you, but I don't really know of anyone in my network looking for your skills right now. I will keep my ears open, though, and let you know if I hear anything. Best of luck, and I will be watching for a LinkedIn notification soon that you landed a great opportunity!
Make no mistake, that is a 57-word blow-off. But wouldn't you rather get that response over the 12-word one that shines you on, and then you never hear back from that person because they did not want to, or couldn't, help you all along?
Remember, it's binary, and you form your opinion based on the empirical evidence. Someone that uses the weak-ass deferment and then never circles back with you is not exactly trying to help, now are they?
In conclusion, forget about the email scenario...well, don't FORGET about it, let's just pull the discussion up a level or two...seek to help others more than asking for, or expecting, help. Pay it forward, and all that. Business networking is one area where that stuff works ORGANICALLY, without some weird cosmic tote board or something. People remember who helped them and who did not. And want to help you back. Or not.
Click HERE for Part 7.