Pause and consider these seven tips before offering professional help or career advice.

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“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

Women from Madeleine Albright to Taylor Swift have said this, and I generally subscribe to this idea. I’ve done informational interviews with young women looking at careers in my field. I share contacts and pass along job leads. I meet people for coffee to talk about their projects.

I believe myself to be a “girl’s girl.” If you’re a woman, I’ve got your back.

But I recently started questioning whether it’s always a good idea to lend a helping hand (to women or men). I’ve helped people, only to have it come back and bite me in the butt. Here’s how to protect yourself when considering mentoring or helping someone professionally.

Value your time. I’ve had people want to buy me coffee in exchange for picking my brain. I used to agree to this but I honestly don’t have the time and I consult for a living so why would I give it away for free? Keeping my hourly rate in mind — which is more than a venti latte — I gently direct folks to my free talks or individual consulting services.

Guard your hard-won contacts. An entrepreneur I know had someone tell her that they were starting a competing event business and would she be so kind as to share her liquor distributors contacts? Cultivating those relationships took time and effort, and the entrepreneur smartly said, “Yeah, no.”

Consider the oxygen mask theory. Make sure you are helping yourself before assisting others. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot just to be seen as “nice.” As Lois Frankel wrote, nice girls don’t get the corner office!

Be focused when providing intel. During informational interviews, be careful not to overshare and spill secrets that could come back to haunt you. The interviewer hasn’t been vetted and you don’t know how your comments will be wielded.

Be selective with your recommendation. If you put in the good word for someone, you are vouching for her. If you aren’t confident that she’ll do an amazing job or are unfamiliar with her work, opt out of providing a reference.

Help her help you. When you’re approached for advice or career assistance, think about how she can return the favor. More than likely, she will be delighted to do you a solid. Can you write a guest post for her blog? Can she make an introduction that would benefit you?

Be generous. If there is someone out there who you can truly lift up and move closer to her goals, by all means help her with generous abandon. It’s good karma. (And she’ll owe you one.)

Jennifer Worick is a veteran freelancer/contractor, publishing consultant and New York Times bestselling author. Email her at