Here's a place to talk about the relationships in your life whenever you want.
So the last career post I wrote about what would inspire -- or un-inspire me -- to recommend someone for a job mentioned the concept of demonstrating value. But what, someone wrote in the comments, does that actually mean?
I am a person who learns by example, so I've come up with three hypothetical examples of how you might do this with whoever you're trying to improve your relationship with: be it a prospective boss, colleague, coworker, etc.
#1 Figure out an area causing stress, suggest a solution and then deliver on it.
Let's say you go to an informational interview with Jennifer who mentions that the filing system at her company is a mess. She also tells you that while she appreciates meeting you, right now there aren't any open spots for hiring.
You could follow up with her, writing an email that says, "Thank you for meeting with me today, Jennifer. I've been thinking about what you said about the filing issues you're having. While I realize you may not have any open spots right now for an assistant position, I would be open to volunteering my time in an internship capacity on weekends to assist. Would this interest?"
Is this an ideal situation? Absolutely not. Could it get you in the door? Absolutely.
Or how about you work with Susie, your current boss. She's constantly talking about how staff meetings are inefficient because suggestions are made to improve workflow but nothing ever seems to come of it.
Why not send her an email saying, "I've thought about what you said about improving workflow based on the suggestions that come out of the staff meeting every week. I've created a Google Drive document where every week, we can put in our suggestions for improvement (that have been approved by you at the meeting) and then update with follow-through. I realize it might not work, but I thought I would take some initiative and throw it out there in case it makes your life easier. No worries if you don't want to use it, but I figured doing a few sample examples of how it could work will give you an idea of whether you'd want to implement it as a regular thing."
You also gave her an out, so there isn't pressure if she hates the idea. But just the thought that clearly goes into your anticipating her needs will absolutely be noticed.
#2 Make key introductions. Not "favor" introductions, but introductions that actually help the person.
You're interning for Bob, and Bob tells you that he's looking to purchase a content management system. During your last internship, you worked for a company that successfully implemented one of the systems he's considering.
You tell him that you could put him in touch with your last supervisor, Larry, to get a sense of whether or not the CMS would be worth buying. Bob is into it; he's excited to hear what this guy says because the company representative is all sales talk.
You email both of them saying, "Bob meet Larry. Larry, as I mentioned to you, Bob is thinking about purchasing the CMS you recently implemented. I also just think the two of you could be useful to each other in general, so I'll let the two of you take it from here."
That would be a value-demonstrating introduction as opposed to a favor introduction, which might be to your friend, who needs a job. That's a favor introduction. You are asking a favor. Don't confuse the two.
When you are still working your way up into whatever field you're in, favors need to be asked for very sparingly.
As a rule: Never ask for a favor unless you've actually provided two quality demonstrations of value.
If you are still junior in your career, ask even more sparingly than that. Don't be afraid to ask, but do it when it really matters and when you've earned it. As I've heard said so many times before, "Don't waste the favor."
Also, obviously, don't be a calculating keeping-score robot. Help people not just to get something in return. I have a friend who calls it "deposits in the karma bank." Help people just to help people, and it comes back.
#3 Make your social media actually useful to other people.
If you're into comedy or entertainment, then sure, make jokes on your Twitter. That's awesome. But all of the tweets reading "I don't know what to write!" or "Bored..." aren't doing you any favors. Look at it this way: You could make your Twitter a premium source for gems of inside industry knowledge if you wanted to.
Nowadays, anyone has the power to be a premium curator for news and information, whatever your industry is. Act like you have the job you want here. Do you want to be a leader in the education field? Great. Use your timeline as a beautifully curated resource culling gems from your field. I promise you those looking to hire you will notice.
You can also engage with people you're wanting to cultivate relationships with and retweet what they're promoting. You'd be surprised how many relationships can develop from Twitter. One of the reasons Miley Cyrus hired her new personal assistant is because the woman knew exactly how to hype the singer online. Never underestimate the power of what service -- or demonstration of value -- you can provide, even if it is just one of hype.
You know how performers often say they couldn't do it without their fans? Yup. It's true. Promoting a business or a pop singer or a cause that you like can lead you to amazing places because the folks who run these things do notice their supporters. Trust me on this.
Remember: Demonstrations of value don't have to mean a completely reorganized filing system (done for free, even less ideal) or some coveted introduction. You can demonstrate your value a lot of times simply through palpable attributes like: positivity, moral support, empathy, loyalty, reliability and so many more characteristics which are not givens, even though it'd be great if they were.
In terms of reliability, it shocks me when I am talking to someone and I'm giving specific direction on what needs to be done, and I have to actually ask the person to take notes. Do it immediately. Anticipate.
The people you work with will notice. Any way you can save someone else time -- and show that you respect their time -- by not having to ask endless follow-up questions is speaking to your character and demonstrating your value.
Show through your actions that you're not helpless -- but at the same time don't be afraid to ask for clarification so you CAN do it right. Here's a great technique to try. After instructions are given tell the instruction giver, "Let me make sure I have this right. I'd like to go over what you just told me so I can make sure I have it covered. Here are the steps that I'm going to take. Let me know if I am misunderstanding any portion of this."
Or -- give them your first sample of work, and say: "If this looks good to you, I'm going to continue in this vein. Sound good, or do you have any notes for me?"
If you're unsure of how to demonstrate value, just ask.
Here's a magic question you could ask your boss: "How can I better support you? What can I do to make your life easier?" A lot of times people have trouble asking for help. Simply providing that lubrication by letting them know that you want to step up speaks volumes about your character.
So, do you have any better, less lame examples that don't read like I just wrote an SAT prep class textbook? Share your tips or real-life examples below!
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.