Go the Extra Mile for a Favor


Here’s some career advice: Make it easy for people to help you.

See, that’s deductive prose. I put the point right up front. (It’s inductive if I make you read the whole thing and put the point at the end. Aesop and Arthur Conan Doyle did this all the time.)

But it’s good advice, no matter where it is in a piece.

A few years ago I got an email from someone I’d never met, asking if I’d meet her for lunch and tell her about my agency. We agreed on a day, which ended up being pleasant weather, and I met her at a local cafe.

She mentioned how inspiring she found my agency’s leader and how much she admired our sustainability work. And then she asked me about my agency: what our current projects are, current challenges, staffing plans.

I asked, carefully, “Do you follow the leader on social media: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn? Or any of our agency accounts?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Have you looked at our website?”

“No, not really, nothing beyond the homepage.”

At that point, I lost 75 percent of my desire to help her.

Seriously — she’s interested enough in my agency to ask me out to lunch, but not interested to do even the basic research?

As it turned out, what she actually wanted was to be a special assistant to the agency head, and I lost the remaining 25 percent desire to help.

“What are you good at? What are your strengths? What would you bring to the job?”

“I can turn my hand to anything!”


While I’m sure she was sincere–which she was, both in the admiration for and desire to work for, my agency–she made it very hard for me to help her.

Because what she wanted was a shortcut. She hadn’t taken the basic steps toward understanding the agency, seeing what the leader might need, and making the argument that her skills would meet our needs. She couldn’t even highlight for me what she might bring to the agency.

And besides that fact that all this research was extremely easy to get to, particularly the information about her own skills, she wanted me to do it for her. That doesn’t go far in the favor exchange.

But think of how many times you’ve wanted someone to do you a favor.

  • If you wanted someone to review something for you, did you print it out for them? Or just email it?
  • If you wanted someone to check a website, did you include the link?
  • If you wanted to meet someone, did you check their calendar and set it up? Or just ask for a time? If they said their calendar was open, did you actually check it?
  • If you want to meet with someone, did you reserve a meeting room? Or do you make them walk around the building looking for a place?

It’s the small stuff that makes the difference. If you do logistics  for me, I’m more willing to spend my time on the favor you’re asking.

If you make me do all the work, I’ll have less time to do on your project. And I’ll be less inclined to do you a favor next time.

Don’t expect people to read your mind or do your side of the logistics. Sweat the small stuff; it’ll pay big dividends.

Katherine Spivey is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Mariah Bastin

Thank you for this post! I really think we get caught up in the “hustle and bustle” of our day and forget to reach a hand out to others! We need to do it more! 🙂