The Golden Rule for Business: Never Burn Bridges
Once upon a time, in a former life of mine, I made my living as a full-time musician. I played guitar, wrote and sang songs, did comedy, recorded a couple of albums, and performed at hundreds of coffeehouses, nightclubs, colleges and concert halls. I toured extensively, opened up for several national acts, and did a lot of radio and TV shows. I met many famous people, and even more unknown but incredibly talented folks along the way. I often tell people that I lived the life of a traveling bohemian artist-musician during that rare window of time between when The Pill came out, and AIDS came in! All in all, I followed my dreams, sewed a lot of wild oats and had a great time! [If you’re curious, check out my Music Website … or if you really want a good laugh, watch this ancient video of me performing the song “Music, Sex & Cookies.”]
There was one piece of advice I got during that time period that I still remember, and have carried with me throughout my successive jobs in the business world. There’s a well-known cliché in the music business that careers are often very short-lived, and that meteoric rises to fame are usually followed by swift drops back into obscurity. One evening I was sharing the bill with another performer who had just such a career arc – he had risen to national fame and huge sellout concerts on the strength of a couple of Top 40 hits from his debut album, and then lacking a strong followup quickly found himself back to playing small clubs and dive bars within a few short years. This guy was actually a really nice, warm, friendly and grounded person, unlike many of the egotistical self-absorbed wannabes I had met over the years. He said something to me that night that I’ll never forget: “Make sure you treat everyone you meet on your way up the ladder with respect and kindness, and don’t forget them … because you’ll meet those same exact people on your way back down on the other side. Never burn bridges!”
What great advice that is for job-seekers, or for that matter anyone in the business world! Most careers follow a natural arc. While not usually as dramatic as the quick rises and falls of a career in the entertainment industry, people in every business have successes and failures, and climbs up (and sometimes back down) corporate ladders. The best way to guarantee long-term success is to lay the groundwork for a strong network of relationships all along the way. Remaining conscious of that Golden Rule of always treating people with respect – the way you’d want them to treat you – and realizing that you might cross paths with the same people you do business with today in some other seemingly unrelated situation in the future is key. Obviously, the process of networking as a job-seeking activity can only be made easier by having a stockpile of relationships built up over time spent following this Golden Rule pathway.
I can recall many times as a recruiter when I worked with candidates who later became decision-makers and hiring authorities, and then turned around and used me as a recruiter to help fill jobs at their new companies because they like the way I worked with them. There were also thousands of other candidates that I interviewed and worked with, who for various reasons I couldn’t really help and who didn’t get jobs through me. Even though they didn’t represent immediate payoffs to me as a recruiter (i.e. commissions) I always tried to treat those other candidates with the same attention and respect as the ones I placed. I often re-encountered those candidates later in other situations, and they almost always remembered the way I treated them. Those people often became my future networking contacts, references, customers or business associates in totally unexpected places. You never know when or where you’re going to re-encounter the people you meet and do business with on a day-to-day basis. Throughout life – and especially in business, treating people right is critical. It’s really true that “what goes around, comes around.”
Now I realize that this advice is not always easy to follow. Job-seekers encounter situations almost every day where others seem to be doing the exact opposite. Examples of this are people not returning phone calls or emails, company representatives being unresponsive or ignoring applicants, gatekeepers or HR people or recruiters or interviewers acting unprofessionally, people failing to follow-up with you, etc. – the list seems endless! Exiting a job (especially when it was not your idea) is another example of a situation where following this advice may be particularly difficult. In each of these cases, there is a natural tendency to get angry, blame others and lash out. However, leaving a company on good terms, and in a totally professional manner – no matter what the circumstances – is always the best approach. [See “The Proper Way to Quit a Job.”] Again, you never know where or when you’re going to re-encounter those same people. We’ve all heard the generic interview advice to “never speak ill of your former employers.” As your mother probably told you, if you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say anything at all! Staying away from any negative talk is always the best tactic. It’s not always easy to do, but remembering the Golden Rule and trying to Never Burn Bridges is a long-term strategy that is guaranteed to put you on the best path for future success.