Paying It Forward

I’ve always enjoyed helping people out – almost to a fault. There are times when you help out a friend knowing that they will get you back sometime down the line.

There is the ever present ‘don’t burn bridges’ mantra that is even more relevant in today’s uber-networked world (an ideal that is probably impossible to uphold with 100% success, but that is another analysis altogether). In many ways, I’m in this sort of a situation these days as I look for ‘the next big thing’ in my career and so dependant on my network of friends, colleagues and family to help me get through this situation. And then there are the times when you help someone out and then question what the hell you are doing or have the whole thing backfire on you (we’ve all been there). In all of these scenarios, you do what you can to help someone out and rationalize that we’re all just doing our best to succeed and live our lives.

So when a couple of weeks ago, I received a blind email from a student at Syracuse University (my alma mater) – I could not help but lend a hand, and boy, did the result make me feel great! You see, on my SU Alumni profile, it says I worked at American Express (which I did from 2004 – 2010). The student was doing some research because he had applied to American Express’ undergraduate internship program. He was digging into the SU Alumni Database hoping to see if any SU alums work – or had worked – at American Express. Maybe he could get some tips, pointers, and advice about how best to approach the upcoming interviews. So when he found my name, he shot me an email, completely blindly and with admittedly low expectations. (Sidenote: This isn’t the first time this has happened to me. Several years ago, another SU student reached out to me for the exact same reason. That time, I spoke to the student a few times and to this day, we’re still in touch (mostly through email and text).

I responded to him within a day, we scheduled some time and ended up having a nice conversation. He had a series of questions to ask, I provided him as much background as I could and I also had some fun hearing about how the Syracuse campus was holding up this winter. It was nice. A week or so later, I got another email from him, saying he made it to the next round – an in person interview! – and he wanted to set up another call for some coaching because the first one was so helpful! So we connected again and I helped him prep for the live interview. And then, over the weekend, I got the best email of the bunch – the student informed me that he won the role and got accepted into the internship program! How awesome is that!?!

I’m not sure if I will ever meet this student face to face – it would be fun to do so one day. I’d like to think that in some small way, I helped him kick off a productive career. Time will tell. But above all else, what I hope is that one day, about 20 years from now, when some Syracuse undergrad who is just starting out on his or her adventure emails him, asking for advice and help, he’ll do the same thing and help get that future kid get prepared.

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