When I first graduated with my HR degree, I remember the optimism and confidence I felt at my job prospects in the corporate world. Fast forward nearly one year; after working in various temp/contract roles, to say my optimism was dim would be an understatement. I fell into the group of newly minted graduates with no professional experience looking for entry-level roles that required experience. To boot, with no work contacts to my credit, save a few networking opportunities to meet a few professionals in the field, I was nowhere near the “door” to get my foot even close to in it.
Thankfully, I was lucky enough to find a position with a manager who was open to my lack of experience but saw my ambition, and she quickly became my mentor. It was under her that I flourished and absorbed as much as possible, and to her I owe much gratitude. I am certain that without her willingness to take a chance on me, I would have second-guessed my career choice and ended up in something different than what I am today.
Fast forward another decade, when I feel fairly settled (though I am always looking for ways to expand my knowledge), and I find myself being on the receiving end of requests for mentorship or advice. It has been a rewarding part of my career to know that I am able to help others who are experiencing the same challenges I once did, and I try to be encouraging and helpful when I can. With the plethora of social media options available today, and the networking opportunities that come with it, people entering the work force are afforded numerous opportunities that we once dreamed about.
Recently, a Cleveland professional who hailed herself as a “passionate advocate for job-seekers” made media headlines for her responses to a request to connect on LinkedIn from a young professional looking to network in the community. (http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/27/tech/web/linked-in-cleveland-job-bank/) Her response was mean-spirited and unprofessional – after which more people came forward with similar responses from her and she issued public apologies for her behaviours.
Now, I’m not saying that every request to network or provide advice needs to be granted, but I feel the need to pay back the professional karma that I received. If someone has the initiative to reach out and seek assistance in a respectful manner, if I can help them, I will. We all started at the proverbial bottom and had someone help us – is it not part of our professional obligation to extend the helping hand later in our career? It doesn’t have to take much of your time or effort to respond to a request with a tip, some advice or more if you are so inclined. Yet, a small gesture from you has the potential to go a great distance in helping an individual at that critical beginning stage of their career. And if later down the road they remember your act of kindness and pay it forward, we keep the cycle moving and our professional network growing. It’s a win-win.