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“How can I help you?”: A Work Philosophy for Success.

It is a pleasure for me to post advice from a domain expert within the financial industry. The author of the guest blog post that follows has achieved a level of career and financial success that I wish for all of you trying to figure out how to navigate your way out of college and into the workforce. For reasons that have to do with social media restrictions in the industry, the author will remain anonymous, I’d like to add that he is a Harvard University Graduate. With much appreciation, here it is:

“How can I help you?”: A Work Philosophy for Success

A few days ago I met with a person about a prospective job opportunity. We talked about his company and I told him about my experience. Then I asked him simply, “How can I help you?” While I had lots of ideas, there was no way for me to understand without asking. After all he knows his business best.

A few days later the person who connected us called me and said he heard it was a good conversation and I had a lot of skills that would be useful. But what stuck out most was how I positioned myself in the conversation with that simple question. My interest in the job wasn’t about what I wanted - it was about how I could help him achieve his goal (or hopefully our mutual goal).

Many of you reading this will be coming into the workforce with new education and skills. Those things will come in plenty handy when you start a job. What will determine whether you succeed or fail at the start is your work philosophy. Are you there to achieve your own success? Or are you there to help achieve the mission of your group? Which approach you pick will determine whether you look like just another employee or stand out amongst your peers as a partner.

In the last 15 years I’ve worked in one of the most intense corporate environments out there. I’ve seen hundreds of new employees that look amazing on paper and in the classroom. More than anything, the choice of their approach has been the biggest determinate of their success or failure.

The “how can I help you?” philosophy is a quite different approach from what most students have experienced. School caters to the student, particularly the college environment. Much of the day to day focuses on what the student needs to achieve their own success. It’s natural that students gravitate to a me first view of the world.

The business world is very different. Achieving the mission is what determines success for everyone. To do that well, each person must focus on what they can do to help. The people who bring a mission-focused way of thinking figure out how to contribute most effectively. Naturally over time they will take increasing responsibility as they see gaps and take on the challenges needed to succeed.

This approach to your work can’t be taught. It’s a personal decision and the philosophy matters more than any specific action. That said, there are some handy practical things you can do at the outset to bring this philosophy to life:

- Understand the challenges. It’s easy to come in and only ask about what your own responsibilities and expectations. Mission driven employees also ask about what the biggest problems are facing the group. Even if you don’t have answers right away, you’ll be part of the ongoing conversation about possible solutions.

- Identify the gaps. Look around you to see where are the things that aren’t working well. Fresh eyes are always incredibly useful in seeing things from a new perspective. It’s important that you are not arrogant with these thoughts. Go to others and ask if they see those same issues and how they have faced them.

- Take on solving the problems. Once you have a sense of what the issues are think about how you can help. It’s very easy to just do what you are told. But most managers need partners to achieve the mission. Think through where you can make an impact and start talking to your manager about it.

The business world will be completely different from the environment you’ve gotten comfortable with. The good news is that much of what will determine your success will not be based on raw intelligence or credentials. What will matter most over time is your work philosophy. And that you have totally in your control.

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