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I have been in the talent acquisition space for the last six years, recruiting tech talent across the globe. In this profession, you constantly have people asking you to help them, their friends or family members. It can be awkward when you can’t quite provide help, but I typically praise them for reaching beyond their comfort zone for help. Luckily, I learned the power in seeking help before I’d even built an ego.
At 14, I was convinced I’d be a lawyer and was eager to learn more about the legal field. Once upon a time, we lived in a world where everyone’s business was not accessible on the internet. I took an old fashion approach, picking up the Bell-Atlantic Yellow Pages, cold-calling all the law firms in the Northern part of the Bronx and asking if they needed a file clerk. As you may have expected, I was either hung up on or laughed off the phone each time. I complained to my mother that I was not having any luck. “Don’t we have two lawyers at church?,” she said. “Maybe they know someone.” These were church members that never actually came to Sunday service, but I knew of them through work they’d done in the community. So, I ditched my yellow pages for a good ol’ church directory and gave these officers of the court a call.
One of the lawyers from church put me in contact with a former partner of hers. She admired my tenacity and agreed to let me do some unpaid work for her that summer at her firm. That led to a year-round paid after-school job for two years. In today’s world, we do not have to rely on the yellow pages to look for opportunities; everything is at our fingertips online. The easiest thing to do is to see job postings, apply and pray your resume is alluring enough to get you a response. Often, this method will have you on an endless road, wondering how others are getting ahead and not you. We’ve all heard the phrase, “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” This is truer today than ever before. However, there is a spin to it: “It’s not what you know, but who you’re connected to.”
After graduating college, many of us have that group of friends that we do everything with. It’s as if we’re in a modern day Living Single world. There is so much beauty in securing your inner circle. So often we yearn for the friends who’ve become family. These friends tend to flow through life similarly to you, often with matching levels of ambition, similar views on love, life and everything in between. Don’t take this the wrong way, but have you stopped to think that your crew may be crippling you? Our inner circle is our comfort zone. In said zone, we easily fall into a pattern of work, happy hour with the homies, complain about work and repeat. This cycle can keep you complacent without question. When you’ve finally had enough on your job, it is rare for folks in your inner circle to have the ability to help you beyond the obligatory “I feel you bruh”? This is where developing your outer circle can be helpful to continued growth and development.
Whether it’s through our job specialty, alma mater, organizations or clubs, we all have ways that we are connected beyond our circle. However, this space is typically the most uncomfortable. It feels strange asking someone you went to school with but never knew to help you get a job. It may feel even more strange to ask a friend of a friend to help you land that new job where they work, but that outer circle is often your key to success. My advice would be to get out there and take charge. Look at the Meetups website, networking opportunities on Eventbrite, job-field specific mixers, etc. If you are not extroverted enough to attend these events, hide behind your computer and get the attention you’re seeking on LinkedIn. Overall, people get a rush from helping others. The key is to come correct.
My company had a director-level communications role open a little over a year ago. We’d interviewed countless qualified people, but none of them fit the mold the way we needed. A couple of weeks into interviewing, a fellow Howard alum reached out to me, citing our commonalities in school pride, campus organizations and expressed interest in the communications role. I called her immediately and she has been working with us, impacting the way we handle internal communication strategy, ever since. Seeing her impact company-wide brings me so much joy. In return, she worked with a friend of mine in the same field to get her resume out to people she knew.
As people of color, we have to put an end to crabs-in-a-barrel and help lift one another. On the receiving end, one must also confidently ask for help. Your outer circle can be the ticket to that critical next step in your career. Learn from your weak ties, bring the knowledge back to your inner circle and task them with bringing something to you from their extended community as well. The goal is to continue enhancing the ecosystem, filling it with success and light. We are all responsible for seeing this through.