How Favors Work

Favors are the currency of the well-connected.

Favors are informal and unquantifiable. If it was quantifiable, you would charge a fee.

The Easiest Favors to Make

  • Making introductions
  • Putting someone’s name forward as an applicant
  • Giving someone first right of refusal
  • Surfacing an opportunity (even if you don’t have the ability to help their application to it)
  • Inviting to good social events
  • Helping someone with a task that has been plaguing them for a while (even when they’re paying you for it)

Avoid Quid Pro Quo

When you think favors, think “currying favor.” Legally, you can’t do quid pro quo even though it happens all the time. You can’t do a favor and immediately expect something in return. That is legal advice. A favor is a favor.

That said, if you’ve done 10 favors for someone and they can’t muster even a small help for you, stop doing favors. That’s a bad relationship.

Institutional Favors

Recall how I wrote about why politicians write so many books. The finance world’s favorite jailbird believes the same hypothesis. This is more of an institutional favor.

Politicians can’t really make money off their job. But have you ever heard of a poor Senator? At the very minimum, even humble Bernie makes millions off of his books. No one really reads these except a handful of diehards, but each politician’s party will buy a bunch to give away to donors (but really it’s to pay the politician to stay in line and reward good behavior).

Think of the mob. You don’t rat on the boss, take a few years in jail instead, and your family is taken care of for life. They’re safe and comfortable.

Getting Jobs

I know of one friend who did favors for 10 years for a C-suite executive in his network (not at his company) and he was rewarded with a job for it. It pays well but that calculation sure doesn’t make sense to me. I think he likes it though.

Why I’m Sharing This

This is simply a function of how the world works. Meritocracy is still true in the long run, but favors is how it works in the short run.

You need both.

And when you’re trying to break into a new level, or at least get off of a plateau, it’s not a linear path where if you work harder you do better. Sometimes a lateral move is necessary—not in your career, but in your approach.

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