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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

The Simple Habit That'll Boost Your Career (and Your Karma!)

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I’ve always been in the camp that people should help those around them whenever and wherever they’re able to. Recently, I learned that this isn’t only a healthy and happy personal practice—it’s actually also a valuable professional strategy. If you’re job searching in particular, your unique set of skills will be especially useful to those around you, and doing favors that not anyone can do will immediately set you apart in the process.

I recently read Sujan Patel’s short piece on ReadThink, where he makes the point that “helping is the new economic currency that can revolutionize businesses in every industry.” I don’t run a business, but that doesn’t mean that I should ignore this idea that helping other people could get me ahead in my career.

After all, we’ve all heard of the value of mentorship for individual careers. But Patel urges us to think even further beyond that relationship, considering how day-to-day interactions with other people in your network, big or small, can add value and happiness to everyone’s lives—no formal relationship required.

Take the job search, for example. It would be a total dream come true if you have a longtime career mentor who helps you go after every new position you want. But, I’m willing to bet that’s highly unlikely. Instead, think about the idea that offering help—rather than receiving it—could be even more useful.

“Offer your advice and insights, and help out with an area you have experience in,” he recommends. “Your network is more likely to hire you after seeing what you can do, than just being told what you can do.”

This is the key: Seeing what you can do. When you can show off your unique skill set in a helpful and kind way, such as with doing favors for others, it becomes a memorable action for both sides. And when it’s time to be on the market for a new job, those people you helped out will be among the first to attest to your skills.

Some of my favorite design project opportunities came from pro bono work for friends and family—people who were so supportive and proud of my work that they shared it with those around them. I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I was building my initial portfolio by doing free work, I was also laying out the foundation for my very first client base. By offering to help people spread information for important events and initiatives, we both took away vital experience and exposure to move forward.

And I want to stress that it was because it was design work as a favor—not a random act of kindness—that I was able to stand out from the crowd. The essential thing is to do favors, when people need them done, that you can do well.