Help Yourself by Helping Others

all togetherAfter reading a rash of articles touting the miraculous effects of doing favors for others as a way of advancing yourself and your company, I recently did a little experiment: I made an attempt to do something for others at least a few times a week. Obviously these were all professional favors, sometimes in my personal network and sometimes out of it. As a die-hard New Englander, this was not entirely natural to me. We do, after all, have a reputation of preferring to maintain self-reliance and a somewhat chilly demeanor. (Feel free to disagree with this assertion, but having a formerly-Texan spate of in-laws makes me feel sturdy in this belief.) The experiment was a pretty surprising experience for a few reasons, but before examining results, let’s go back to the rationale behind why doing favors for others has become such a popular professional technique, particularly recently.

While it’s certainly not news in that doing favors for people in and out of your network can bump your career, the idea that we might benefit from it particularly when we do it pretty frequently can be considered a product of the times. Technology plays a huge part in this story. LinkedIn, Facebook, etc connect people socially and professionally in ways that didn’t exist 10 or 20 years ago. Contact can be maintained between these connections in immediate ways, even at the blistering pace of business. If one faces a business problem, they can easily reach out to their network of hundreds of contacts as the problem arises.

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The second factor in the rise of advocacy for doing professional favors consistently is actually a person: Adam Grant. As a professor of Management at Wharton, he’s done extensive amounts of research on how extending oneself to others is a powerful (if counter intuitive) way to get ahead oneself. Check out the article the New York Times wrote about him back in March. Plenty of other people also tout this trend and the idea of doing extra favors, even with one’s competitors (it’s cleverly referred to as ‘coopertition’) is pretty rampant in Europe. (NY Times business blogger Adriana Herrera’s musing on the subject is intriguing.) It’s hard to discount the way Grant’s research has spread like wildfire in the states, though.

The last factor we can probably point to is the recession. Without getting too political, let’s just say that a country that’s fallen on hard times is one that tends to more openly accept the spirit of cooperation and cumulative resources (rather than individual resources). Again, feel free to disagree with this point—it’s a very oversimplified observation of a very complex topic.

Taking all these factors into consideration, it was a no-brainer to jump into my own personal experiment and start doing favors for others a few times a week on average. The first surprise was how easy it became the more I did it. As per Grant’s research, I did in fact feel like generosity was more of a ‘muscle’ than I had thought. The more I did for others professionally, the more I felt capable of doing. It became habit when speaking to somebody to scroll though my own resources for things they might find helpful. The second surprise was how much this new habit paid off. Doing favors for contacts on the periphery of the staffing field resulted in new resources AVID hadn’t already encountered. Several people paid my favors back ten-fold. I benefited nicely and AVID benefited very nicely as well. So perhaps that is the third surprise: generosity is a great way to advance professionally and it will probably advance your staffing company as well.

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Samantha Keefe
Samantha Keefe is the interactive marketing manager for AVID Technical Resources, a Boston-based IT recruiting firm with offices all over the U.S. She can be reached at samantha.keefe (at) avidtr (dot) com.

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