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Home > Audio, Podcast, Show > Archive: A Reputation for Helpfulness — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

Archive: A Reputation for Helpfulness — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

April 25th, 2014

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Read and listen to the first column in this series, Cultivating Your Career Reputations.

Everyone wants to be helpful, right? Surely, there can’t be people out there who don’t understand the need to be helpful and how it binds society together. Then you find yourself running for an elevator and someone refuses to hold the door. Perhaps you’re trying to accomplish something at your local bank or government agency and you are faced with someone who, it seems, does everything in their power to not be helpful. We see a breakdown in the sense of helpfulness everyday, which is why you need to focus on this reputation intensely, despite how commonsense it might first appear.

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The fact is, without the helpful actions of those around us – our friends, family and co-workers – it would be nearly impossible to get anything accomplished. Others can easily obstruct us in our endeavors if they wish and we must realize that we can also obstruct others. Instead, though, we need to be aware of those opportunities where we can be helpful, seek them out, and use them to cement our reputation as a helpful person.

Being helpful can take a myriad of forms. In your day-to-day life this might mean holding the door for someone or helping an older person load a case of something at the local CostCo Warehouse. In our work life, helpful actions might be something as simple as returning your phone calls or as complex as writing a function for a new program, even though you aren’t on the same project. Sharing your ideas is also important, as is simply listening to others, when they need a friendly ear. It is simple actions like these that establish your reputation for helpfulness and it is a lack of these actions that can brand you as unhelpful and unfriendly.

I know it can be difficult, with all the stress of work today, to be as helpful as you might. You have your own work to do and your own projects to complete. Still, who will you turn to when you need help? If you constantly deny help to those around you, you can’t, reasonably, expect them to come running to your aid when you need them. You have to fill the well of helpfulness before you can ever draw from it – and you will need to draw from it. We all need help on occasion, no matter how much we might consider ourselves the “lone wolf” of the company.

Of course, like everything in life, there can be a dark side to helpfulness. There are those around you who will want more than your help – they will want you do to their work for them. I have run into many people like this over the years and it is important you recognize them quickly, so that you don’t find yourself in a bad situation.

You can typically recognize these “do it for me” folks, by their subtle (or not so subtle) pressure to offload tasks or entire projects onto you, instead of just a simple question or two. In one particular case, during my time as a corporate IS worker, a request to stop by and “help me format a spreadsheet” turned into a request to enter pages of data. You have to be quick to react when faced with a situation like this. In most cases, you simply have to refuse to do the work for the other person. Being helpful does not mean being used by others. The sad fact is, though, that there will be people who attempt to do just that. You can be helpful without taking on other’s responsibilities. They may accuse you of being unhelpful, but you should easily see the difference, even if they can’t.

Building a reputation for helpfulness can do much to enhance your career and little to harm it, unless you error on the side of being too helpful and too free with your time. Like the other reputations I have described, helpfulness is a direct indicator of your overall desire to do the best work possible. It also shows a deep understanding that helping others is often the best way of enhancing your own work, whenever you need a little helping hand.

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