Bridges take us places over obstacles. They lead us from one place to another. They help us travel through life. Because of this, they should only be burnt when absolutely necessary.
Most people know this and attempt to follow the simple rule of “don’t burn bridges”. What a lot of us forget, myself included, is that bridges also need to be maintained. They need to be checked every once in a while. They need to be visited.
You are never more aware of this as when you are in need. What happens and you go to use a bridge you haven’t maintained in 10 years? Will the bridge even be there? If you are lucky then yes, it will be there and you can use it. At the same time, if you are smart you will give back to the bridge in some way. Maintain it, see if it needs anything.
Job searching is many times about bridges.
In Nov, 2010 I found myself in need of a job. Monster, Dice, CareerBuilder, they are all useful but nothing opens more doors than having someone already on the other side of the door willing to open it for you. This person is your bridge into the company.
They can open the door, they can get you in front of the right people, they can pop you to the top of the pile. They are your best asset in a job hunt. They should never, ever, be taken for granted.
You previous work colleagues are people you need to stay in touch with. If it’s a once every few months ping it’s better than nothing. You spend 40+ hrs a week with these people for who knows how long. They know you, they know how you work. Hopefully you made a good impression.
If you did they can help you. Don’t be ashamed to ask but don’t expect anything as well. They are doing you a favor. They are putting their reputation on the line to help you. Realize that and treat it carefully.
Pay it back. If someone helps you in the door, they are in a way stating ‘I speak for this guy. He’s a good guy. Can you help him out?’. That’s a big deal and if you don’t realize and treat it as such, the number of bridges you have will dwindle quickly. You need to pay them back. When they ask you for help, do it. It might be them in the same situation a year down the road. Don’t do what they did for you, do more. It’s great to be on the same footing with someone, its better if they feel they owe you.
They last statement may have caught you off guard, it may even seem cold, but it’s the truth. Every person who has helped me get my foot in the door, helped me cross a bridge into a company in an indirect way, I owe them. When called upon I’ll do at a minimum what they did for me. If possible, more. There is one caveat though: Don’t stick your neck out unless you believe the person can do the job.
It’s great to help a friend. It’s the right thing to do. But if they aren’t a fit for the job, tell them. Set the realistic expectations immediately. Never say “Well, I’ll submit your resume and let’s see what happens” when you know they are under qualified. You’re not helping them and you’re not helping yourself. Don’t get their expectations up but treat them with respect. A job is someones lifeline. It’s not to be treated lightly.
During my search I called upon a friend, I went and visited a bridge I hadn’t seen in a while. I knew it, and I’m sure he did as well so I went ‘cap in hand’. I was modest because I should be. Contacting someone after a few years to say “can you help me out” is a bit bold. I was lucky enough that we had a good working relationship when we worked together and he was also a truly nice guy.
At the same time the job I was looking for was very difficult. Maybe even out of my league. He played it correctly. “Go look at the job descriptions and tell me which ones you are interested in”. I did and contacted him. “Lets talks”. We did. He set the expectations. I might not have the math skills for one position but if I wanted to get my foot in the door I could try for the other. He didn’t put himself on the line for someone who might not be qualified for the job but he still helped me out. He established the expectations right from the start.
We build many bridges in this world and sometimes we have to burn some of them. Be careful which ones you burn. Be just as careful with the ones you may need in the future