I was sitting at my favorite corner table at a local coffee shop, chatting with a friend who was currently in the middle of a long job hunt.
“I’m just not getting called in for many interviews,” she lamented over our steaming mugs of chai latte. “I was hoping you could take a look at my resume and work on polishing it up for me. I need help!”
Immediately, my stomach dropped into my shoes.
This wasn’t the first time I had a friend or family member ask me for help with something similar. I make my living as a freelance writer, but the bulk of my workload focuses specifically on career advice. This includes tips for creating an impactful résumé.
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Prior to that, I actually worked as a professional resume writer. So naturally, I’ve sort of transformed into the go-to resource for all of my loved ones who are searching for a new gig.
Of course, I’m more than willing to offer a few tips and tricks here and there. But I’ve had far too many past experiences where my kindness and willingness to offer my expertise and professional services (free of charge) have only ended up burning me, not to mention my monthly income.
Needless to say, I’m now hesitant to take the work that I make my living on and offer it for free to every friend or family member who asks. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still get asked.
I’m sure that many professionals find themselves in a similar situation. Whether you’re an accountant, a lawyer, a mechanic – you name it – you’ve likely run into your fair share of people who expect you to lend your skills and experience, either completely for free or at an incredibly steep discount.
However, that can be a slippery slope. Here are a few tips to help you navigate those murky waters.
Set Some Ground Rules
After being asked a few times to either help someone with written work or assist them in their job hunt, I realized it was important for me to set and stick to some ground rules – both for myself and other people.
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Doing this is helpful for a couple of different reasons. First, it gives me the benefit of knowing that I have a firm personal policy in place to help me determine when I’m crossing the line from being helpful to being a doormat. It’s something that I can easily lean on and reference when turning down a request for a favor.
Additionally, it gives me a baseline to operate with. I use the same set of guidelines for everyone, meaning that a friend can’t complain that I helped someone else more than I was able to help him. These rules I set for myself keep everything completely predictable and also ensure that I treat all of my loved ones fairly.
Offer a Friendly Reminder
Unfortunately, it becomes all too easy for your friends and family members to completely forget that you don’t make your living offering favors. So sometimes you need to share a gentle reminder that you can’t spend all of your time doling out free services.
You can phrase this nudge in a way that doesn’t seem overly harsh, using the ground rules you set for yourself in the above step.
Typically, I end up saying something like, “I’d be happy to sit down and talk some things through for a half hour. But I’m unable to dedicate any more time than that, as it makes it difficult for me to justify charging people for that same service.”
More often than not, my friends and family have been incredibly understanding and accommodating (of course, with a few rare exceptions, such as the friend who decided to stop speaking to me after I turned down her request for help).
Don’t Be Afraid to Say No
Here’s the most important thing for you to remember: It’s totally okay for you to turn down requests for favors.
The ball is in your court, and you don’t need to do anything that you don’t feel comfortable doing. Again, this can be done gently by referencing the personal policy you’ve laid out for yourself by saying something like, “I really appreciate that you value my input so much. But, I make it my personal policy not to mix my work with my personal life.”
I know that it can feel a little uncomfortable to walk away from your loved ones who are asking for help. But remember, you can’t always give things away – especially if you earn your living doing those exact same things.