Asking for help is not what it used be

7310883864_3efa73b64f_mI learned the difference between good help and bad help in my college creative writing classes. Good help consisted of feedback and general guidance. “That character’s dialogue seemed force.” “You could really flesh this section out.” Bad help consisted of personal ideas and overly specific guidance. “He should say this instead.” “Here’s what the next scene should be.”

What was the difference? Good help left me in charge. It provided me with useful feedback while still allowing me to make the moves. Bad help was intrusive, prescriptive. It took the story away from me; it replaced my foundational ideas with someone else’s, and if I didn’t own the foundation, how could I own the finished product? I wanted the satisfaction of a job well done in the end. I wanted to say, I made this. Bad help didn’t allow that.

Asking someone to help you get a job can feel like the bad kind of help. It can feel like you’re asking someone else to write the beginning of your career for you, like you’re handing the steering wheel to someone else and saying, “The road looks rough ahead; why don’t you take over?”

But it’s not. Not even a little bit.

If you’re coming out of college, you’re coming from a place where everything is earned on merit. A better grade means reading a little bit more, digging a little bit deeper, staying up just a little bit later. You do the work, you get a passing grade. You do extra work, you get a better grade. You go above and beyond, you get the best grade. Why? Because every professor accepts every assignment that meets the requirements and gets turned in on time. Getting a job isn’t like that.

Getting a job is like if your professor only has one grade to hand out, not necessarily a good one, just “a grade.” Whoever’s essay stands out (not that it’s the best; just that it stands out) gets that grade. The rest of the class? Tough luck. They’ll have to go elsewhere to fill their transcripts.

What I’m getting at is there’s stiff competition out there, so just meeting the job’s qualifications isn’t enough. You need to work from all angles. You need to reach out to the connections you’ve earned over the years. And, yes, I say “earned,” because that’s just what they are. Getting your connections to refer you or recommend you for jobs isn’t a shortcut; if they’re willing to help you, that means you’ve done something to earn their trust. And you know what? They’re earning a new connection who’s willing to go the extra mile in you, too!

This isn’t like writing an essay or a short story. Getting someone else directly involved with your job search doesn’t take away your ownership of it. It’s just a more efficient way of getting where you need to go. Or to put it another way: when someone invents a new piece of technology that simplifies our daily life, do they call that laziness? No, they call it ingenuity.

That’s how I feel at least. How about you? Are you afraid to ask for help, or are you going to milk your network for all it’s worth?

photo by Flickr user, used under a Creative Commons License.

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