Asking for Help, How Not to Morph into a Parasite

mosqIn business building or job searching, one of the most important things you can do to increase your success is network. 

Not just attend events and exchange cards, really connect, share, provide value and ask for help.

That last part can lead to valuable information, knowledge and contacts or it can brand you as a parasite.

There is a fine line between being helpful and being taken advantage of.

I have found more often than not, people want to help you.  They will offer time to have a phone conversation or give their advice, all you have to do is ask.

The problem comes when you cross the line from asking to expecting, you start taking advantage of their good nature.

This week I came across a few examples of people being helpful and friendly and the situation quickly turned into a negative experience.

One woman had offered advice and insight, at the last minute, to a peer; after a joint meeting the peer requested time with her at that moment.  She was not available, but offered the next day.  Her peer became upset with her.

My best friend is having concrete work done.  The contractor explained that it is just him and he had a couple of other big jobs and asked if she could delay her start to help him out.  She was fine with that, she’s a nice person, and she understood.  It has been over a week that her yard has been torn up and not seen or heard hide nor hare of him.

I have been there, done that.  It always amazes me how the situation turns ugly so quickly.

Someone will ask for me to review their information and I do so gladly, giving suggestions and advice.  I love helping people and always offer a free review.  People may not need to hire me, sometimes they just need a little boost in the right way.

However, there are times that individuals then come back with the expectation that I will continue to critique and guide them throughout the entire writing/networking/interviewing process on their schedule (which is normally last minute) and for free.

Here are some ways to tell if you are a parasite.

  • If you begin with a small request and then morph into demanding the full monty on your time schedule and become insulted that I am not willing to accommodate, you might be a parasite.

  That whole passive-aggressive look is so last season, drop it.

  • If you start with an unusually high amount of flattery, you might be a parasite. 

What you are really telling me is you think I am an idiot that can be buttered up and manipulated.  I survived teenager boys who were expert charmers, you are being     disrespectful, not sincere.

  • If you try to justify why I should give you my time, lots and lots of my time and expertise on your schedule and on my dime, you might be a parasite.

A lesser degree of passive-aggressive and flattery, but still in the same vein, still insulting.

  • If you angrily argue with me over the advice I have given you, you might be a parasite.

You asked me, remember?  I am sorry if you do not like what I have told you but I am not your spouse, I don’t tell you what you want to hear to make you feel better or shut you up, I tell you what you need to hear.

  • If you ask about costs and then ask, “But can’t you just do it for free?” you might be a parasite

Oh gee, if wishes and buts were candy and nuts, oh what a wonderful Christmas we would all have.  It is a saying my mom used to tell us when we came up with excuses or unreasonable requests.  Who knew I could ever be able to use it myself – or would.

  • If your justification for asking is that this is something that I do every day so it is no big deal for me, you might be a parasite.

Yes, you are right, I do this every day, I have dedicated myself to my craft.  I take pride in it and love what I do; this translates that to me, it is not a big deal.

  • If you try to guilt me into helping you, you might be a parasite.

My grandmother was the queen of guilt trips so there is no way you can hold a candle to her, nice try.

  • If you try to bully me, telling me that you would hate for people to know how unaccommodating I am, you are a parasite. 

And a bully.  Really, you are just a jackass.

  • If you tell me that someone else offered to do this for you for free or spend an incredible amount of time with you on their dime, so you do not see why I can’t, you might be a parasite.

This one is easy, then go call them.

I absolutely advocate asking for help.  Just please keep in mind when you do to mind your manners.  Thank the person for agreeing, act professionally, listen to what they have to say, thank them again for their time at the end and offer yourself as a resource or for any assistance that they might need in the future.


Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Brand Strategist & Career Coach

Certified Professional Resume Writer



Just Ask For Help Already

Image  I love tomatoes.  My favorite food in the summer is a salad made with avocados, black olives and tomatoes.  I love picking tomatoes off the vine and eating them like an apple for a snack.  I also make a killer cucumber and tomato salad.


For these reasons, I need fresh tomatoes.  Yes, it is a need.  Not want, need.


Sounds simple enough. 


I looked outside at what used to be my garden and see two of my dogs chewing on the grass that has taken over.  I also catch them fertilizing the weeds that have invaded.


Not an ideal tomato patch.  It needs a lot of cleaning up.


But before I can clean it up, I need to cordon it off.  The two big dogs have a way of trampling, fertilizing and marking things; but the little one, well, she was trained by my old pack leader how to pick tomatoes off the vine and eat them.


So before I can plant, I need to clean it up; but before I can clean it up, I need to create a crazy-dog proof fencing.


I say crazy because one dog scales six foot privacy fences and the other can pretty much open any latch man has made.


So I have to build something.  I decide a fence with added features on the corners will cure the scaling dog and a couple contraptions on the latch will slow down the other.  I need to build a six foot fence and gate that match the existing fencing and gates.


Which means I have to prepare before I build, before I clear, weed, prepare and plant. 


Post holes need to be dug, things have to be measured off, materials have to be purchased without the risk of returning because they are the wrong things.


All I wanted was tomatoes.


One simple thing that has turned into a huge to-do list, an overwhelming to do list.  The first thing is dig the holes for the posts.  


After a couple of weeks, and only being able to dig down 12 inches and they kinda looked in line; I finally gave in and asked for help.  I had no choice.  If I was going to get my tomatoes this year, then I had to admit I was out of my element here.


I called for backup.  I called one of my best friends.  I even made the request more urgent by telling him that our 21-year-old son was going to help me build the fence. Yes, my son’s father is one of my best friends. 


He is also an expert at cars, building and well, sometimes everything – but that is another story.


He built the deck on the back of the house and many moons ago used to build desks and privacy fences.  The man can build.


Yesterday the rest of the post holes were completed then two eight foot and two ten foot posts were set in concrete.  I helped, I just want to say.  I carried lumber, poured concrete mix, held things straight, strung twine and masterfully added water to the concrete. 


I was so excited at how much progress was made in a couple hours with help that when my little buddy (my two year old neighbor) popped his head up and asked, “Whatcha doing?” I had to tell him about the fence, gate and garden.   Hey, I was excited and he asked! 


Then he asked why, I think a natural response from two year olds, so I told him to keep the doggies out of my tomatoes.  I completely lost him then because I said the magic word “doggie” (he loves my dogs) and he was off trying to see them between the fencing. 


Today, the bracing goes up and probably the fencing.  This means that soon after the gate, clearing, tilling and preparation can be done for planting this weekend!


Now, had I not asked for help, this project could have stretched out indefinitely, which means no fresh tomatoes for me this year. 


I am not a person to ask for help easily.  I am stubborn.  I could justify this not asking by saying other things like I am independent, my dad and ex taught me how to use tools, blah, blah, blah.  But let me just cut to the chase – I am stubborn.  I want to be able to do things on my own.


It burns me when I cannot.


I put my big girl shoes on and asked for help because I needed it.  Sure, I could have done it all myself.  It would have taken me a crazy long time to complete and honestly, may not have been as solid as what it is now.  I would have wasted a lot of time, money and energy only to have to have it all fall down after I did it on my own.


I’m still breathing after I asked for help.


That’s the other thing – it didn’t kill me to ask for help.  No price to pay, no begging, crying, pleading, humiliating sucking up; I just simply had to ask.  It was so easy.  Why do we set it up to be so difficult?  Why do we force this “I can do it all on my own” attitude on ourselves and then when we realize we are out of our league we have to compound the problem by “having” to ask for help?


I didn’t have to – I wanted to.  We work well together, he does awesome work and I always, always learn something.  I also let him know how much I appreciate his help and expertise.  He felt good about being able to help.  It was a good thing all the way around.


We are not made to do all things ourselves.  We need help.  People like to help.  We just need to get over it and simply ask.  Then those that need the help are connected with those that like to help and guess what – it is a win-win situation!


Where are you stalled?  What is some hurdle that you cannot get over to move on with a goal?  What is it that you are lacking in order to accomplish this goal?  For me it was two things:  knowledge and brawn.  Look, there is no way I was heaving four 50 pound bags of cement to the back yard.  Just wasn’t going to happen.


Figure out where you need the help, get over yourself then ask for help.  I know part of it was ego, luckily being only five foot tall there isn’t a lot of ego to get over, but I had to; and once I did, I can see the vision coming together.


I think I might have to put this into practice more often.  It feels awesome to know that not only will I be able to plant tomatoes soon, but the gate and fence are going to be solid, well build and look great.  What else can I accomplish if I just ask for a little help?  What can you?


Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Brand Strategist & Career Coach

Certified Professional Resume Writer


The 1 Thing To Do RIGHT NOW To Recharge, Launch or Boost Your Career, Business or Job Search

finger pointingI am going to let you in on a very powerful secret.  It is something that you can do immediately upon reading it that will literally change the game.


Imagine people helping you, willingly and with joy, find that right job or connect you to the right clients.


And it will start to happen when you do this one thing.  The best part is – you can do it right here, right now without any physical strain or money invested!


Seriously, it is that easy.


And it is literally two words.


Can you imagine a life-changing opportunity by just following two words?


It can happen – you just have to follow these two little words.


Are you ready for it?  Really, really ready for it?


It may sound harsh and may be bold but ok, here goes; brace yourself:


Stop whining.


That’s it.


That is the wisdom, that is the simplicity and that is the key.


I have spoke repeatedly on the importance of having gratitude, knowing your value and giving to others unselfishly; however before you can begin embracing these things (which are all important components of reaching your goal) you must first start at ground zero.


Ground zero is you.  People will support you and opportunities will develop if you allow them.


Whining repels people.


People get frustrated and feel unappreciated in helping someone that continually complains.  The more you whine the more people quite honestly do not want to hear it, especially if they have tried to help you.


Imagine the good feeling you have in telling someone about a potential job opportunity and their response is, “well it really isn’t what I am looking for, it is beneath what I have done in the past and I am just so tired of the only jobs available are ones that I am way overqualified for.”


I would be done.


We have a little thing we do between my son, his father and myself to help remind each other to not whine.  When, even in a missed attempt, we try to help one another if the receiver starts whining the giver simply looks at them and says, “You are welcome.”


People give because they want to and they will continue to give when they know it is appreciated and they feel it has done some bit of good.  It makes people feel good.  We like to feel good; therefore, the more good we feel we do the more we give.


Whining tells people immediately to not even bother trying because you probably are not going to appreciate it so it will suck the happy right out of your giving.


Two words, so simple in their statement and even thought I have presented it in a flippant manner, it isn’t as easy as it sounds.


When you get into whiner zone sometimes you do not realize how far deep they have plunged into that pool.  Whining becomes a natural reaction.  An annoying reaction, but an instant reaction.


It has to be a conscious decision one that you work on until it no longer is a reaction nor a chosen response.


When you feel a whine coming on take a breath.  It will make you stop a beat.  Either bite it back and don’t release it out loud or try something radical – state out loud something you are thankful for.


This doesn’t have to be major, just something.  For example I came home the other day with my mind on fully focused on a project unsure if it will come to fruition.  While I was gone pup number 4 had decided to open the mail, go through the sales papers by tearing them up and leaving them all over the kitchen and then making sure no other pup played with his mess, he peed on them.


Needless to say I wasn’t a happy camper.  Instead of whining about it, I took a breath, smiled at him and said, “I’m thankful you didn’t poop in the living room.”


Hey, you take a win where you can get it.


The point is, I could have easily come home and whined about the project and lack of movement, but instead I realized no one wanted to hear that and hey, my life isn’t that bad, I didn’t have to clean up poop.



Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Career Coach-Strategist

Certified Professional Resume Writer

Career Polish, Inc.



Want Help – Follow 2 Simple Steps

please and thank you

I have a friend that bought a house earlier this year.  We have pretty much converted the whole house into something new and, well quite frankly, it looks great.  Painted every room, decorating, staining and putting up trim, redoing kitchen cabinets, putting up backsplash, new light fixtures – top to bottom we are transforming that house into his own.


I say we because I’ve been the head painter, decorator, shopper and project manager.  Last weekend we painted the outdoor storage shed – more like a mini house.  Later I had someone else ask me why I have done so much to help my friend.


It is simple, really.  Just two little reasons:


  1. He      asked.
  2. He is      appreciative.


That’s it.


I find as a rule, most people do want to help you.  You might run into apprehension when asking, but that is nothing to take personally.


Normally when someone is apprehensive it is due to either having been asked for help but expected to produce results or a continual barrage of requests without listening to the advice given.


Here is an example of each of these scenarios:


A job seeker reaches out to a possible contact to request their opinion or advice.  The contact agrees to give them time and the job seeker then ends up asking them who they know that is hiring or could connect them to in order to get a foot in the door.


A job seeker contacts a possible contact to ask for advice and the contact speaks to them for a period of time giving good, solid information and suggestions.  The next day the job seeker calls back to clarify what they said and ask exactly how they should do one thing they suggested.  A couple days later they call again with the mind set that it isn’t working and what are they doing wrong, or is there anything else they should be doing.


People don’t mind helping; but when it becomes an expectation it crosses the line and they are no longer willing to provide assistance, information or expertise.


Many will say that they don’t know how to get help.




It is as simple as that.


Reach out and ask for their time and advice.  Be respectful in knowing the boundaries, do not expect more than what is offered, do not use it as an opportunity to recruit them as your own personal head hunter or connector to anyone else.  Keep it simple and respectful.


The next important aspect in receiving someone’s help:


Thank them.


A simple follow up note stating your appreciation will go a long way.  Who doesn’t like to feel appreciated?  I know last weekend after I was home and settled for the night my friend called and simply said, “I just wanted to thank you for all you have done.  I really appreciate it.”


That one simple gesture was genuine.  It is one reason why I don’t mind giving up my time and putting work into his projects.  He appreciates it and tells me as much.


Don’t be afraid to ask for help or opinions.  Simply ask giving the parameters of what you are asking.


If you are looking to break into a new field you can contact someone already working in the industry and tell them that they are doing a job that you would love to do and would simply like to find out more about how they got there to determine your next steps.  Be clear that you are not asking for a job or leads, just simply would love some industry insight.


If they agree, keep your conversation within the allotted time period, stick to your questions and do not meander over to the dark side of asking them to do any more for you.


At the end of the conversation thank them for their time and value that they presented to you.  Immediately write a thank you note and pop it in the mail.  If you don’t do thank you notes, which I see no reason not to, the next day send them an email thanking them again.


These two things: asking and appreciation, will serve you well now and in the future.



Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW



Fixers Beware Of Emotional Poaching

My best friend told me on more than one occasion that I am a “fixer”. I can’t help it, I come from a long line of fixers – it is genetic. You have to understand that fixers are, on the most part, people who want to help others; giving something unconditionally in order that the other party can benefit. It makes us feel good, valued and it becomes instinctual.

We have this weird radar when we detect a challenge, problem or issue our little alarm system goes into action and somewhere off in the distance the Mighty Mouse songs begins….“Here I come to save the day…” We have no control over this. Kind of like how dogs can sniff out a thunderstorm before anyone else – we do that with problems. We can’t explain it and we are not always conscious of it, we just do it.

The one thing that fixers don’t understand is that our help is not always wanted. And it is not like we set out to fix the entire world’s problems; again, it is instinctual. Sometimes we just dive right in and don’t even realize that we are wandering in woods where we are not wanted. Kind of like poaching, but it is emotional poaching. We really don’t mean any harm.

Having this tendency is great for my client’s; I am able to let that instinct take over and run with it. However, I have to continually monitor myself during conversations to make sure this pesky little tendency doesn’t creep out and somehow take over. I have realized that not everyone wants my help; and have therefore learned (and continue to learn) how to just shut up.

When I hear others bring up a challenge or my radar goes off, I have to stop myself before I speak. I have this little internal conversation with myself: “just listen, are they venting or asking for help?” If it is a venting session then shut up and if they are asking for help then offer to help and let it be their choice.

My son taught me the difference between venting and asking for help. When he used to vent I would immediately jump in to fix – combine fixer with motherhood and it goes into overdrive. One day he told me that he just wanted to vent, not to have me fix anything. Through trial and error we developed a communication that if he does not make it clear at the beginning that he is venting then I ask so we can avoid unpleasant conversations.

Of course, being a fixer is a continual challenge and as much as I try to keep a reign on it, there are times that it’s a sneaky little trait and just jumps out.

This weekend I ran into a friend of mine, a very successful mortgage broker. When I was preparing for a talk on 30 second elevator pitches I had a discussion with him and he told me he only introduces himself as a Mortgage Broker. I hate titles and it made me cringe, but I listened and he was very helpful in helping me prepare my speech.

This weekend we were talking and I thanked him again for his assistance and then it happened. The fixer side blurted out, “Please let me help you with your elevator speech.” Or something similar to this. I heard the words coming out and couldn’t stop them. Lucky for me my friend is very sweet and just smiled and shook his head at me. I immediately apologized and he told me it was ok, he knew me. Whew!

If you are a fixer, like me, you must be very well aware of this tendency. In networking you will meet lots of people and your radar may go into overdrive. This is a time that you must stop and reign in it, think about if people are truly wanting help, asking for help, simply giving a speech or trying to make small talk. Don’t waste your powers in unwanted woods.

Another important point is to realize why you are poaching. Is it truly to help someone else or is there a desired result that you personally want? This is very prominent in dating. Men think women want to change them; honestly we don’t – it is just some stupid unconscious action. Kind of like baseball players grabbing their jewels and spitting. They don’t even realize they are doing it, they just do it in the course of the game. Same thing. But we grow out of it or at least it lessens over time, eventually.

My point is, if you know someone who is going through a transition or difficult time you may want to help them because you care and therefore you offer assistance in every manner at every opportunity. But beware – they may not want you help period.

They may not be ready to accept the help or maybe they just want to do it on their own. Whatever the reason, just back off and let your friend be. Letting them know that you are there for them and if they need you that you are there in a heartbeat is enough. If they choose to let you help great, but it is their choice. If not, don’t take it personally. They are not saying they do not want you to be a part of your life; they just don’t want you poaching in their woods.

Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW
Career Coach-Strategist
Certified Professional Resume Writer
Career Polish, Inc.

What Are You Going To Do – Pursue Happiness Or Create It?

Before you take any action you must want to do so. Sounds simple, right? That’s what resolutions are all about. So why are so many long forgotten by February? Because the failed resolutions were made with interest, not commitment.

Oh sure, I am interested in being more healthy – but I’m not committed to it. How could I be when I do not eat well, drink way too much caffeine, exercise minimally and have other bad habits?

I meet a lot of people who want to change jobs or at least secure a position – most are interested, not committed. Simply having me review a resume with no follow up action on their part is pure interest. At the very least, use some of the suggestions.

I have a good friend that told me that people to not commit until they feel enough pain. I tend to avoid pain at all possible – it is a general rule I like to follow and for the most part it serves me well. However, I have also discovered it has its flaws.

Avoiding pain is a way to avoid commitment. The biggest reason to adopt the avoiding pain is to avoid rejection. No one likes rejection; however it can be used as a growth tool.

When I was in the financial industry and was contemplating looking elsewhere within the industry I remember being struck with a thought: “what if another company does not think I’m as good as I think I am, what if I have just fooled this company and I really suck?!” Yes, welcome to my mind.

So I avoided it, I did not prepare my resume, I did not prepare for networking, I did not want to interview – I completely avoided it. The pain came when I was forced to take action and the avoidance increased the pain.

Sometimes we just need to think or talk through it. So let me ask you these seemingly simple questions. Write down or say out loud your initial response – don’t think about it. It all boils down to three questions:

 Are you happy?
 Why not?
 What are you willing to do about it?

Taking it a step further:

 What do you want?
 What do you need?
 What is the worst that could happen if you do nothing?
 What is the best that could happen if you changed nothing?
 What is the worst that could happen if you take action?
 What is the best that could happen if you take action?
 What is involved in making change?
 What do you need to do to get what you want?
 What are you willing to do to get what you want?
 What are you not willing to do?
 What are you afraid of?

I suggest writing down your answers so you can come back and look at them again. For each response keep asking “why?” until you get to the real reasons.

Maybe you are okay where you are and have felt the need to change based on other people’s intentions. To that I say: “Knock it off! It is your life, you create your own happiness – stop worrying about what other people think.”

Maybe you can uncover what your real fear is and this will give you the opportunity to reach out for assistance. Whether it be a significant other, a good friend, a coach, a professional, a mentor – whomever it is you need, reach out and ask for help – once you commit.

If you are interested keep your wants to yourself. It is like the boy who cried wolf. People will soon learn that you are just blowing smoke and tire of hearing it. If you have repeatedly stated you want to change something but have never done anything to prove it people will not believe you when you actually make that commitment.

However, if you are committed, commit to yourself first, take some steps and prove to yourself that you truly want this. Answering the questions above is just a tool – not an actionable step. But it is a good start to taking action. Once you have identified actionable items within your answers – go with them and perform them. Each action taken is a commitment fulfilled, a step toward success, proof of your commitment.

“Some people pursue happiness, others create it.” One of my favorite quotes – something to think about.

Once you start the processes of taking actionable steps you can work on allowing the good things to come to you. Which will be the next post – how to open the door to welcome and allow the good to come in and stay awhile….

Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW
Career Coach-Strategist
Certified Professional Resume Writer
Career Polish, Inc.

Don’t Play That Game…or Let It Be Played on You

This is a continuation of the trophy-for-trying generation irk that started yesterday. Not only does it seem that a pat on the back is expected for thinking about doing something, but also these little bundles of joy want us to do it for them.

Here’s a tip kids: I’ve been married to one man, a decade later I lived with another and I’ve raised an 18 year old son – playing stupid to get me to do something for you does not work, trust me, the best have tried. You know the trick of looking helpless, asking the dumbest questions in hopes of annoying someone into exasperation and finally proclaiming, “Here, let me do it for you.” I don’t play that game. Asking me those incessant incredibly dumb questions earns you one response from me: “I’m sure you can figure it out – how about you try.” And then I walk away.

I saw a son trying this on a mother once in the library before one of my classes. “Mom, how do you do this, where do I go from here, what should I put…” blah, blah, blah. She got that look, that desperate to shut her own kid up look and just about said those dreaded words when I intervened. I looked at her and said, in the mom voice, “Don’t you dare.” I startled her long enough to have this conversation with her kid:

Me: “Do you have a cell phone?”
Flawed-trickery child: “Yes”
Me: “Do you have media on your phone?”
Flawed-trickery child: “Yes”
Me: “Do you have a Facebook account?
Flawed-trickery child: “Yes”
Me: “Then you know enough about computers and how to create a profile that I bet you can figure this out all by yourself.”

At this point the Flawed-trickery child gave me the evil-parent look because he knew that he was busted. The mom thanked me and I told her no problem, they are sneaky little bastards and we have to stick together!

I had a friend of Jake’s try to pull that on me, stupid kid. He got the typical response and then he sighed – SIGHED! Seriously? Okay, here’s another rule in my house, if you are a friend of my son’s and adopt me as a secondary mom I have all mom rights and I exercise them. Ask any of my adopted boys – every one of them had earned a smack upside the back of their head. This one got it too. Do NOT sigh at me because your weak attempt at trickery failed. Admit you are in the presence of one much smarter than you and with a quicker upswing and do it your damn self.

It is time we put an end to this ridiculous game! It is played in homes, libraries and work-sites all around the country, probably all around the world. I do not suggest smacking a co-worker or boss upside the back of the head, although I know there are times that they truly deserve it. The best response for these foolish soon-to-be-failed-tricksters is simply saying, “You know, the best way to learn it is to do it yourself. I know it can be frustrating, it was for me, but that is how I mastered it. Try working through it and you’ll be amazed at how well you pick it up, I bet I’ll be asking you for tips! I need to go finish this project now!” and leave.

Now, I did have a boss that tried this game with a computer program and I finally looked at him and said, “You have no intention of ever doing this yourself, do you?” He was honest and answered no, so I told him to at least respect me enough to just ask me to do it rather than treat me like I’m an idiot and not only play this game but think I have time for it. The requests became fewer and we had a new level of appreciation of each other’s time.

And for you parents out there – KNOCK IT OFF. Good lord you want your little bundles of joy to survive in the real world don’t you? Keep this crap up and you are looking at them turning into the whiny bastards that are complaining that there are no snacks in the pantry when they are 30 because they STILL LIVE WITH YOU!

Don’t be afraid to say no to helping. It does not make you a mean or evil person. Have enough respect for your own time to not waste it on someone that is going to play a game with you. Don’t get me wrong, I like games: baseball, football, card games and some board games – but I don’t like people games. Anyone that plays a people game with you is showing you disrespect. Respect yourself and stand firm. If they get upset because they actually have to do it themselves, well, tough cookies, life is hard isn’t it? Don’t be a doormat. You must respect yourself before anyone else will.

Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW
Career Polish, Inc.

Giving and Receiving

I am a big proponent of asking people for help.  There are many things in this world I just don’t know so I am smart enough to know to ask for help.  For those in transition I commonly suggest requesting informational interviews and asking for help.

But perhaps I should clarify this: yes, do ask for help but no, do not expect someone to do all the work for you or overstep your bounds.

Let me give you a couple of examples of what I mean by stepping over your bounds:

I have a friend who is a florist.  She does amazing work and is a very intelligent, earning a marketing degree.  She does a lot of design and creative projects and amazes me with her abilities.  However, there is one individual that frequently asks her to come over and re-design a table, a room, a profile, a house – you name it, she just expects that my friend will do it.

I knew of a gentleman that lived down the street from a cardiologist.  His next door neighbor had to have some tests run and requested copies of all the reports.  Upon receiving the reports he promptly walked up to the cardiologists home, handed him the test results and said, “Can you take a look at these for me and tell me what they say?”

I have another friend that teaches a business basics class, primarily how to write a business proposal.  Every once in a while he will get a participant that will hand him their proposal after the class and ask him to “just take a look”.  After giving a few suggestions he hands it back and inevitably the participant gets upset and says, “I thought you were going to re-write it.” 

Or asking if your friend if know of an individual you can contact then asking them to set up the appointment for you.  Polite is asking them to make an email introduction, rude is asking them to be your personal assistant.

You see, people are willing to help, but please do not take advantage of them.  You are not receiving assistance in that manner, you are burning bridges. 

If you are unsure if you request is approaching the “over the line” test then simply add this sentence to the end of the request:

“Please feel free to say no, I will not be upset.  I am looking for help and sometimes I get a little exuberant and request too much.  So if it is all you have to say is ‘I’m sorry I can’t do more’.” 

Give them an out.  Then honor your word.  If they do not want to help do not hold a grudge, realize that you might have been asking a bit too much of someone.

I think people in general are good and kind and willing to help their fellow-man.  But I also think that people will help because they want to not because they are expected to – please do not put that expectation on them. 

And my last little gentle reminder of the day: be sure that you are always willing to help out your fellow-man.  Those that get without giving will never receive.  Those who give without expecting receive tenfold.

Gaps in Work History – What have you done for YOU lately?

“So tell me what have you been doing since you left your last position?” That can be such a daunting question during an interview. Please, please, please do not answer, “Looking for a job.” If you have answered in this way I am sending you a mental head slap! How you answer this question is important. Of course, that is, if you get to the interview.

When a potential employer is reading your resume and cover letter, if they see gaps, they are asking the question: what have you been doing. Are you adequately explaining gaps or even acknowledging them? Putting your head in the sand does not make an uncomfortable situation go away – I’ve tried, it doesn’t work.

I recently saw something on CareerBuilder the other day that stated over half of the countries unemployed have been without a job for 27 weeks or more. While six months may not seem like a long amount of time during this economy, what about those who have been looking for 12 or more months? No matter what the time period, this is a challenge and there are two things that can help you.

First and foremost: Invest in yourself. I’ve said it before and I will say it many more times: if you are in transition you are now officially in the business of sales. Your company is you, your product is you and your market is the employment world. Welcome aboard! Welcome to one of the most difficult jobs you will ever have full of frustration, doubt, insecurity, rejection, unknown – and that’s just a Monday!

So how does one invest in oneself and how much is this going to cost me you ask? Well, first, shame on you – that is the wrong attitude. Do not approach this as a negative; investing in oneself is a positive thing! The cost can vary monetarily but there is a heavy price of your time, effort and mental energy. You cannot slack on this, you must commit!

1. Take classes. Your public library has a plethora of classes available (I love that word plethora and am so excited that I can use it!); WorkOne Centers offer classes; there are community colleges, online resources: just look around you and you will see the availability. You may not be able to go back to get a college degree at this time but that does not mean you cannot take a class to help expand your skills. This can cost money, but you are worth the investment!
2. Network. Look in your community paper to see what networking groups are meeting and when and get your caboose there. Practice, learn, try – the more people that know you and what you can do the greater the chance they know someone or a friend of a friend that might be able to help. This can be low or no cost, do your homework and get moving.

3. Ask. If you are looking to get into a new industry, do your homework, research companies and reach out to ask for informational interviews. Generally I find people do what to help others, but how can anyone help you if you do not ask? This is free!

4. Volunteer. You can think of this as paying it forward, putting others before yourself or an opportunity to meet new people with whom you have something in common. You will be expanding your horizons and network, giving back to your community and building information to be able to put on your resume. This is free but the rewards are priceless.

5. Hire a professional. Sometimes you must realize there is only so much that you can do on your own and even that might not be working. There are professionals in all areas that can help you: life coaches, career counselors, etiquette consultants – you name it there are resources available to you. Yes, this costs money but again, aren’t you worth the investment?

5a. Go to a professional. Utilize the services of professionals that can assist you in your job search – staffing firms or recruiters. Many do not charge the employees but rather the employers so this is another free option in terms of money. But be forewarned – you must be worth the investment for them to try to sell you so I suggest you employ one or many of the above options.

Now, let me back up and say first that I completely understand the anger and frustration of losing a job and job searching. At some point it is akin to the five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression then Acceptance. You are allowed to feel any or all of these emotions and it is perfectly normal.  Keep in mind; however, there is a difference between allowing oneself to feel these emotions and being trapped by them.

Before you can invest in yourself you must believe in yourself and the benefits of taking action. To be blunt – stop fighting everything in your world! I once knew a gentleman that was in transition for well over a year. He would show up at networking events, seminars and workshops and had quite the reputation. And not the reputation that one would like to have.

I was giving a workshop once on resumes and throughout the entire workshop he was very negative and challenging. Not to me personally, but to most things that any of the presenters said. He would say things like, “I tried that once, it didn’t work,” or “I personally do not think that employers care about that.” Negativity oozed from his pores and others around him started to roll their eyes. You see, every positive thought or suggestion that was given to him he rejected. Every suggestion on investing in himself was met with volatile denial, “I can’t afford to do that, I don’t have time. I don’t’ want to – I just need a job!”

You cannot afford to invest in yourself, just by becoming involved in activities that are free? Seriously? Think about that thought for a minute. To me it says I can afford to be unemployed for as long as I want to poison my world with my negative attitude. Seriously.

Now, one might think he picked up on this clue as to why he was in transition so long, but unfortunately, he did not get the connection. He created such a physical wall around himself that others were no longer willing to assist him to the point that they turned the other direction when they saw him coming. Learn from this, please.

I have talked to several recruiters, HR professionals and managers who state that they understand that there will be a time between positions; however, if it is any length of time they want to see that the individual was proactive in investing in themselves. Yes, they literally use this phrase: “I want to see that they have invested in themselves.” Do you start to see the connection?

Investing in yourself in any of the above ways shows that you are proactive in your search, in yourself. My uncle, when he was a teenager, was told my grandfather to go get a job. He came home after about an hour and told his mother, “I walked up and down the street and no one offered me a job.” True story. Your next employer is not going to run out of their building and say, “Oh, thank goodness you walked by, you’re hired!” nor are they going to come knock on your door!

Investing in yourself also means opening your mind to other possibilities. You want to be doing X, but cannot obtain that position right now. Sometimes the best roads are the ones that are not a straight shot to where we think we want to go. My path has taken some crazy turns but as I look back, I see that every step was a step in the right direction. No matter what job I did or what the title was or duties performed, I learned something and I moved forward.

If you are not willing to invest in yourself, why would an employer want to? Keep an open mind; get off your duff; put the time, effort, energy and possibly money into the most important person in your company – you. Oliver Wendell Holmes said it best, “I find that the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.”

First Impressions: The Written Word is a Powerful Thing

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. I use this saying a lot in my marketing pieces and when I speak at functions. How many people have heard this but not give it any credence? Many people I talk to assume this only relates to the visual aspect of a first impression or forget that it extends to all forms of communication. For example: have you ever received an email from an individual or company and immediately formed an opinion of the sender? Today I want to look at written forms of communication and give few tips and reminders about first impressions, which I call Gentle Reminders. I learned this from Miss Manners.


Oh, I love email. Oftentimes I would rather people communicate with me via email than on the phone because I can get my email on my computer and on my phone so I can instantly respond to them. Yes, I truly fit the definition of one that has a “CrackBerry”, I am never without my phone and only during family time am I not checking it or responding to something I have received on it.

My first gentle reminder is this: email is not texting. You cannot abbreviate or use two letters for entire words. It is not acceptable and frankly you look uneducated when you do so. Can you imagine a hiring manager getting the response back, “tnx for the email, c u 2moro” It almost looks like a Prince song (wow, have I dated myself there).

Email gentle reminder two: please make sure your Caps Lock is NOT on. I have literally emailed someone back asking them to stop yelling at me when I receive an email in all capitol letters. It was a gentle reminder but effective. Read the following lines and see if you can pick up on the difference:

Thank you for your time yesterday; I truly enjoyed our conversation and look forward to meeting again next Tuesday at 3:00.


Same sentence yet there is a major difference in tone.

Email gentle reminder three: Tone, humor and subtleties do not translate well in email so you must keep this in mind. A majority of humor and subtlety is translated through non-verbal communication i.e. a slight smile, a raising of the eyebrow, a widening of the eyes. The reader cannot see you, they cannot read your mind and they certainly do not know what frame of mind you are in when you are writing the email so you must be vigilant in creating a message that is clear and leaves no room for interpretation. Let me state it frankly – humor does not translate well at all, just do not use it period.

Here is another thought to keep in mind: the intended recipient may know you well enough to understand you, but do you really know that they are the only one that will read the email? How many companies have filtering programs for their emails? How many other eyes view their emails? That was something that I had to do in a former life, check all incoming emails for a company and let me tell you, I read a emails containing information that I really did not want to know and wish I could forget!

Email tip: Write the email then walk away. Let it sit then come back and read it again. I have written an email or even a blog and thought what I was writing was exactly what I was thinking and it all was very clear. Much to my dismay, in re-reading the information later I found that the two were not the same and revisions were necessary to make sure my point was clear.

Letters, Thank You Cards, Cover Letters etc.

Gentle Reminder One: First and foremost – check you spelling. Now check it again. Do no solely rely on spell check. I can tell you that I worked four Merrill Lynch. The word “four” in the previous sentence is spelled correctly, but it is the wrong for! And grammar check did not pick up on it either. One misspelled word can ruin a wonderful creation and send it straight into the trash. Have someone else proof it, someone you trust to proof read. I have business partners, two are wonderful at reading content for content alone, making sure the message is clear. The other is wonderful at spelling and grammar. They are an invaluable team: Manuel, Jackie and Jake, I value their opinions and trust their thoughts.

When I write a hand written note, I type it out on the computer first to use spell check as my first line of defense. Then I print it out and go through it word by word. Then I will copy it to the note. And if my writing is not neat, I throw it away and start again. No use sending a hand written note if no one can read it, it defeats the purpose.

Gentle Reminder Two: When writing a hand written note, be sure to reference something that the reader will remember in order to connect you to the interview. It should be something that was a positive exchange. For example, if you are sending a thank you note after an interview, be sure to include something discussed during the interview. “I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the new automotive ordering process, what an incredible time and money saver!”

One caveat, do not refer to an “inside” joke or lighthearted moment during the interview. It may have eased the situation at that moment, however a day or two later the recipient may not remember the environment in which the exchange transpired or simply not think it funny today.

Gentle Reminder Three: When addressing the envelope, please make sure that it is done neatly and professionally. Use full titles, company name, spell out the address (Suite 500 not Ste 500), use proper business form as it is business communication.

Assistance Letters

This I am making a separate topic due to the uniqueness of the letter. Whether this be a request for an information interview, an introduction or any other appeal make sure you are very clear. If you are appealing to someone to share their time, opinion or expertise please do not send them a five page flattery-dripping letter praising them and in the last sentence end with “by the way, can you….”

Be sincere, honest and direct. If you are asking someone to grant you their time, tell them why you are making this request, they will want to know. No mater who you are your most valuable asset is time and for someone to share theirs with you will require information. I am not simply going to meet with someone because they asked me to. I know that may sound snobbish, and in a way I suppose I am being selfish. I have children, a fiancé, family, friends and a business. My time is valuable and I have limited time to share with everyone that I would love to so please, let the recipient know your intentions.

For me, I want to know why you want to meet with me, what you would like to discuss, and an expectation of time. If you do not set the time expectation, I will. I would also like to know what lead you to contact me specifically.

Let me give you an example. I recently received a request for a meeting. The gentleman and I had met a few years ago through another company and he had found me on LinkedIn. He is a period of transition and would like my advice on a specific topic. He was very clear to tell me that he has attended workshops and done quite a bit of research, which tells me that he is not looking for me to provide all of the answers. He asked for a specific amount of time and suggested a time period for me to check my calendar, at my convenience.

I appreciated several things about this request:
1. He told me how he knew me and was able to establish a connection.
2. He has done his homework on the topic he would like to discuss.
3. He was very specific about the time requested.
4. He recognized the value of my time and promised to honor this.
5. He was specific about the topic, which will lead to a well run meeting.
6. He was very professional in all of his communication.
7. He used common courtesy and manners.

We are meeting next week and I am looking forward to meeting this gentleman, I have been impressed so far. I have no doubt, as there has been a stream of communication that he will present as professional in person as he has in the virtual world.

Gentle Reminder: You set a tone when you are writing correspondence. It is imperative that if you establish a very professional tone you uphold this through out any future contact or communication.

In short, take your time, be clear, be professional and be positive. The written word is a powerful thing when used wisely.