Paying It Forward: Why You Should Extend A Hand To Those Starting Out

I recently wrote an article for fresh college grads, most of whom are just beginning their professional journey. The article, Help Wanted, was really written for my sons and their friends—and the kids of the old guys and gals I hang out with professionally and personally. People like YOU!

When you read it, it will probably give you flashbacks! I’ve been at this 30+ years. Sometimes those early days seem like a lifetime ago—and sometimes they feel like freaking yesterday! (Can I get an AMEN!?!?).

To those of you who have “been there and done that,” try to put yourself in their shoes. It may not take much to trigger some memories. I know I don’t have to think too hard to remember some of the folks who helped me get to where I am today.

Want a real-life example? I’d personally like to give a shoutout to the late Tony Doherty, a Baton Rouge CPA, who took a flier on the just-two-points-short-of-a-4.0-GPA University of Arkansas accounting grad. He took me on as a temp worker when I cold called him out of the blue. He not only hired me to complete a client project, he offered me a place to stay in one of his rental houses. In short, he gave me the opportunity I needed to launch my career (when no one else would give me the time of day!).

What can you do?

The biggest help you can provide to new professionals is to take up the mantle as a mentor when the opportunity arises. If you’re approached by someone to chat over coffee, invited to a career fair at your alma mater, or asked to talk to your best friend’s kid, do your best to help that person in some way.

Share your story. But don’t sugarcoat it—be brutally honest. Share the successes AND struggles you’ve faced. Your story may help them take the next steps in theirs.

One misconception I’ve seen about networking is thinking that it has to lead to some direct outcome – for the mentor or the mentee. In the world in which we live, instant gratification seems to rule the day. Too often, when approached by a young, hungry person who wants to absorb our knowledge, we think, “I don’t have a job for them, I’d just be wasting my time (and theirs)!”

Good things happen for good people

But connecting with, and especially mentoring, young professionals is NOT about instant gratification. Your goal should be to help this person learn from others, build their network. And if you’re anything like me, helping someone else just feels good! Plus good karma always seems to follow when I pay it forward like this.

While they may initially think that landing a job is their goal—facilitating additional, meaningful connections is often a more attainable (not to mention beneficial in the long-term) goal. And I tell them this upfront: “Don’t count on me for a job, but I’ll promise you additional connections and some thoughtful conversations.”

My personal goals are to provide some counsel from sharing my story and stories of others, create connection opportunities for them, and to inspire and encourage them.

Think about others you know who may be able to help this person gain additional knowledge or help them. I might introduce them to someone who is just a few steps ahead of them on their journey, or to more seasoned veterans with specific knowledge about their areas of interest.

Quality over quantity—always

Networking for the sake of collecting business cards or adding a new LinkedIn connection is a thing of the past (although I’m kind of ashamed to admit that I still carry business cards. I’m NOT a boomer dammit!). I’m all for real, person-to-person, human-to-human connection—not the surface-level bullshit.

For both young (and old) professionals seeking new opportunities, and those in positions to serve as mentors, focus on the ways you can help each other and create a mutually beneficial relationship. That’s what it’s all about.

Help Wanted

Whether you’ve been around the block a few times, you find yourself in transition, or you’re a recent college grad just starting out—there will come a time where you need help. You might need guidance, or advice, or you just need someone to talk to. It will happen! Please keep that in mind next time someone offers to buy you a cup of coffee and ask you questions for 30 minutes.

Be there for THEM. Try to remember what it was like when you were starting out. Put your younger self in their shoes. What advice would you give yourself?. It’s been longer than I’d care to admit since I started out—but some of the pain and rejection I remember like it was yesterday. Check out my companion article, Help Wanted, for advice I’m giving to them…the YOU of 20 or 30 years ago!

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