After taking a bit of a mental vacation from my career consulting services, I’m back in the game! While taking some time off to get life in order, I thought about my goals and my motivations. As it relates to the career consulting stuff, my primary goal is to make money doing something that helps people that I can eventually do full-time. Helping people brings me joy. Getting paid for it brings me freedom. Freedom and helping others are two of my top values, so it only makes sense.
With that said, I evaluated why I took such an extended break and realized part of the issue was that I felt I was being taken advantage of. I was responding to a lot of email with attachments and spending more time doing stuff for free than I should have.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate having people come to me because they trust my advice. That says a lot about the reputation I’ve built. I enjoy answering questions that can be answered in five to ten minutes or featured on the blog in long form (Fix My Job Search). That helps me build my expertise and there’s nothing like getting an email from someone that’s had career success because of something I said. But there are a couple things that have irked me lately: I’ve had people hit me up asking for an asap response on free advice and getting irritated when I don’t respond right away, and I’ve had people send me files asking me to review them and provide feedback.
These examples may seem harmless on the surface, but the issue comes when people expect you to drop what you’re doing to respond, or spend time on their stuff without discussing how you’ll be compensated for your time. I understand that sometimes people need help getting out of career quicksand, but I feel some type of way when people don’t say please or thank you.
I’ve thought about what I could do differently to avoid this happening and realized there isn’t a way to stop these types of inquiries. The only thing I can do is be clear upfront about expectations. I did this a couple times after providing initial advice and being asked for more, only to see the people disappear. What a surprise, right?
I think there’s an inherent challenge with helping people because you’re a generous person, and helping people to the detriment of yourself. Certain individuals will take advantage of you if you let them. But you may feel that by not helping them, you’re letting them down, which can make you feel worse. That’s what happens to me sometimes, but I’m learning there has to be balance. Sometimes I have to be generous. Pay it forward. All that good stuff. Other times I’ll need to be selfish. I’ll need to look at time spent being generous vs. time that could be spent doing something that helps me get closer to freedom. You could argue that the more people that know about me, the better things will be. But, when those people refer others to me, those folks come with the same expectation of free. But again, it’s about balance. Quick questions or opinion requests? Cool. Forwarding me unsolicited files asking me to critique because you heard I helped someone else (for free)? Not cool.
For those that have the same struggle, don’t be afraid to ask for compensation. If the person opts to go elsewhere for freeness, let ’em. For those seeking free help and services, remember that you’re reaching out to a person and not a machine that spits out what you need. He or she is setting aside time to help you when they could surely be doing something else. And if you know you’re asking for something they clearly charge for, expect to discuss compensation. Be generous and bring it up first. (Wishful thinking, but I had to say it.)
And now that this is out of the way, let’s get back to the regularly scheduled programming.