Advice, Careers, Inspiration for Change, Kathy Caprino Before You Ask Someone for Free Help, Reconsider Written by: Kathy Caprino

HELPI’ve been utterly floored this past month by the volume of requests I’ve received for FREE help from complete strangers, and by the nature and content of these requests. 

The bulk of these requests have come in from readers of my article LinkedIn: Busting 8 Damaging Myths About What It Can Do For Your Career, that ran on on September 13th.  It surprised all of us (the Forbes editors and me) as it blew up on the front page and was viewed by over 60,000 people.  

That week, I literally heard from over 150 folks asking for all sorts of free help and I continue to get requests, including my review and recommendations on: their LinkedIn profiles, resumes, job or career options, potential career changes, interview approaches, how to get testimonials, and on and on.

What I’m stunned about is that in all of these requests for free help, not ONE person offered to pay for my time, or suggested bartering with something of value.  They simply wanted help without offering anything in return.   Perhaps I’m crazy, but I would never ask a stranger for help in this way.

Further, a good number of these requests for free help were:

1)      Urgent – “I have an urgent career decision to make. Can you respond asap?”


 2)      Disrespectful – These folks didn’t care or consider for a second that I make my living offering career counsel.  I’m not a non-profit or a charity; I’m a business owner.  And I’m really good at what I do, after years of training and experience.  It takes a significant amount of time and energy to review someone’s information/situation and offer tailored recommendations.  I deserve to be paid for my time and effort. 

(For the record, I do offer my time for free, but on a very selective basis to organizations and non-profits that have a broad reach and help hundreds of people through their services.)

 3)      Narcissistic – It’s all about them, and what they need and how soon.  Never a second thought about what I might need in order to be of service to them.

4)      Clueless – It’s clear that these folks hadn’t a clue that theirs was one of hundreds of similar requests, and as such, impossible to accommodate without their becoming a client of mine, and having time scheduled in my calendar.

Please don’t get me wrong.  I’m truly honored and excited that my writing touched a chord and resonated with so many people, and I certainly hope that trend continues.  And I do LOVE to be of service to people, helping them make positive change.  And I love hearing from folks about how my writing impacted them.

That being said, I’m tired and fed up with free help requests.  It remains shocking to me that so many people all across the globe who want help forget to be considerate and respectful of those they’re asking support from.  Come on people!  Let’s reverse that trend.

My hope is that going forward, anyone who asks another individual for free help will be more considerate and thoughtful prior to making the request.  Think about what the helping party deserves for his/her support, what it will take from them to give you the help you want, and what you can offer in return.  If you can’t offer money, think about what you can provide that would be meaningful.  NEVER ask without considering these issues beforehand.

One more thing – for every request you make for FREE help, offer someone else free help instead.

8 thoughts on “Before You Ask Someone for Free Help, Reconsider”

  1. 60,000 hits! This topic is about people hurting because they are unemployed and struggling to make a living. The request for free help comes from all the emotions tied around being unemployed in this economic climate. FEAR and uncertainty drive the decision to ask for support. The lack of funds to pay for that support leave the person desperate for any help they can get. Those of us with the resources must come to the table to help where we can. The support group neighbors helping neighbors has grown so rapidly because of this great need. I choose to be a part of the support team for free because my needs are met. I have the skills that can help people and it supports my value system to share these skills.

    We all need money to support ourselves and our families. I ask that if we are in a place of abundance, our needs are met, we come to the table and share our skills with those in need.

  2. Thanks, BAM. I think you are right on in many ways, and I appreciate your comments. The point I need to make, however, is that no matter how in need we are (and I’ve been there in great need, as no doubt you have too), we must always bring our “highest self” to the table, and remember that each of us has something to give someone else, something of value, something of meaning. In my training as a therapist, I was taught that if you give therapy for free (rather than even charging $5) what you’ll find is that you 1) contribute to the client’s feeling of helplessness, and 2) there’s less skin in the game for them. Clients paying even $5 contributes to their being more motivated to make change. I know a lot about what helps people make lasting positive change, and this is a vitally important dimension – that they regain their self-worth. So while it’s vitally important to give what you can to others, I believe it’s equally important to EMPOWER people to remember that they have something vital to give others as well, despite these terribly crushing financial times.

    As I said, I do give freely and widely of my time for free. But it’s important to remember that each of us must remain in choice” in terms of where and to whom they offer their help, support and giving. If you believe you must help each and every one of the thousands of people who reach out for free help, then most likely at some point you’ll find yourself unable to help anyone because you’ve become emotionally and energetically (and financially) drained to the point of emptiness.

    Thanks for sharing, and glad to know of neighbors-helping-neighbors. All best.

  3. Kathy, thank you for this article and your response to the first comment.

    Several years ago I was unemployed and also in need of therapy for some serious issues I faced. My therapist was an extraordinarily kind woman who was well aware of my financial situation. At first she offered therapy for free. That went on for a few months when she realized it was actually hurting me – if nothing else, I was beginning to “expect” more free things from other people, not just her – entitlement was setting in and as I was also job hunting, that was a particularly dangerous thing. So we came to an agreement for me to pay $10 a session – that’s what I could honestly afford. It made a huge difference because my entitlement levels went down and I took my sessions more seriously — and that rippled throughout my life. I believe that’s what allowed me to later take on freelance work with a healthy attitude (and definitely minus the entitlement, needy attitude) , work that eventually led to a staff position at the company where I currently work.

  4. Thanks so much for your note, Caroline, and your open sharing. It’s much appreciated. I’m very glad to know that your increased sense of empowerment through your therapy work and the act of paying for it (and the ensuing diminished feeling of “entitlement”) came to all good things. Wonderful. This is how I believe life works…We are helped most when we dig deep inside and find a way to help ourselves. That being said, it’s critical to know when we need to reach out to others to get empowering, enlivening support and assistance! Thank you for sharing, and all best wishes.

  5. Kathy,
    As a fellow career professional, I have thought what you have said hundreds of times in the past. I have struggled with wanting to help people in need versus my own needs to earn a living and avoid being emotionally drained by people who appear (by their actions, but not fundamentally as a person) to have nothing to give. Totally self-absorbed.
    Thank you for expressing what I imagine most career professionals are experiencing on a regular basis, possibly even daily, as they go about their work of helping clients as well as volunteering their time.
    I have been volunteering my time for over four years with a local church. I provide free career coaching advice in a group environment to approximately 75 job seekers each month. For four years, that’s about 3,000 people. I would say that about 200 have asked for free help, none have offered something in return, and less than 10 have become paying clients.
    There are lots of free services of mediocre quality for job seekers who do not want to pay for higher quality professional services.
    Good luck and best wishes!

  6. Hi Kathy,

    Thanks so much for posting this. As a fellow professional, I can empathize with your plight of receiving such requests for FREE help. It happens all the time but only few of us can respond the way you have. Thanks again for writing this, hope more and more people read this post and learn that the other person’s time, effort and ability need to be respected.

    Best Wishes to you.

  7. Thanks for your comments. I appreciate them. It’s truly hard to say “no” to folks in need, and harder yet not to feel guilty in doing so, but as professionals, we must be well-boundaried and always clear about who we are and what we are here to do. Thanks again for sharing.

Comments are closed.