Help me help you

In the movie, Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise’s title character has a classic bathroom conversation where he pleads with his athlete client Rod Tidwell (played by Cuba Goodling Jr.) emphatically imploring “Help me Help you!”   That message also rang through in  New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie’s plea of  “Don’t be stupid, get out,” as hurricane Sandy threatened.  The weather on the US East Coast this week was highly anticipated and authorities pleaded with residents to heed warnings and evacuate where appropriate.  Rescue services want to keep people safe and to provide help.  People who need or want help should make it easy for others to help them.

So it goes with managing your career or networking.  Your classmates, colleagues, mentors and friends want to help you succeed.  Whether you are looking for the next promotion, carving out a new role that would better suit your passions, pitching an idea to win a potential client or looking for an “in” at the perfect employer, your connections would love to be part of that success.  To allow them to help you – you need to help them help you.

We, Darden alumni, are very fortunate to be part of a very strong network where helping one another is a norm in our community.  But even in a genuinely helping culture, sometimes it’s not easy to help.  What can you do to make it easy to be helped?  Here are some ideas:

1. Look for ways to make each interaction mutually beneficial – give as much as you take.

2.  Do your homework – don’t ask people to answer questions that you can find on a website or by doing a little research online.   Know what and who s/he will know about and ask questions that are relevant.  Provide something for your connection to react to like a list of companies of interest.

3. Be able to articulate what you are looking for and know how the other person might help you.  Ask pointed questions that will help you decide on things or will help you understand a situation better.  Don’t expect someone else to tell you what you should do … if you don’t know, they won’t know.

4. Be likable – avoid an arrogant, presumptive attitude.  Remember body language can be very loud.  If you want your contact to share his connections with you , he needs to be confident  that you won’t embarrass him and that you will represent him well.

5. Concentrate on having business conversations rather than asking favors.

Just the other day, a senior alumna told me about how excited she was having  connected  a job searching 2010 alumnus (we’ll call him Brian) with a very old and trusted contact at one of Brian’s target companies.  She really wanted to help Brian because he seemed very sharp and had demonstrated his knowledge of the industry.  He had built credibility over a couple of conversations.  Perhaps most importantly, he had a very humble demeanor and she felt he wouldn’t embarrass her with her old friend.   She felt great about being able to make an important introduction.  He made it easy for her to help him.

Don’t get stranded on the roof in a flood when you know a hurricane is coming!  And when you “get out,” be prepared,  have something to give, know what you want, and  be likable.  Make it easy for people to help you!  Help me, help YOU.

Connie Dato English, Director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business

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