Networking Reciprocity: Don’t Overlook the Intangibles!

While we’re on the subject of networking, there’s another tip we’d offer to anybody who is looking to ratchet up their effectiveness in this key skill area.  Simply put, if one potential definition of networking is to “successfully compete for the time and attention of busy people,” it stands to reason that you’ll want to provide your contacts with some sort of value, in return, for the time and effort they invest in you.

This being said, there are definitely instances when you can actually trade some tangible benefits for the tangible resources (e.g. job leads, referrals) that you are asking for in return.  For example, you might treat your networking contact to a nice lunch, take them to a ball game, send them a thoughtful gift, or route a quality candidate to their attention for an open position in their own organization.  In many cases, however, an appropriate tangible gesture may not materialize, which is when you have to have a solid command of all the intangible benefits that you can provide to your networking ally, if needed.

Remember, most people who are willing to network freely with others and lend a helping hand to those around them do not go into these situations expecting tangible compensation in return.  Instead, they are usually motivated to engage in this behavior by certain internal values, such as the desire to build up a reserve of “favors owed” to them or to create the perception (both to themselves and to others) that they are helpful, resourceful, connected individuals.   As a job seeker, therefore, your mission is to reinforce these motivations and self-perceptions whenever possible — a process which, although invisible, adds a great deal of value and mutual relevancy to the networking relationship, even if no tangible “quid pro quo” opportunities immediately materialize.

To get you started off on the right foot, here’s a short list of three common intangible benefits that you can easily provide to the various folks you meet with if you set your mind to it…

— Laughter:
If you bring some fun, whimsy, and a sense of humor to your networking meetings, and entertain the people you’re meeting with, they’ll walk away with a good laugh or two — which is a rare and valuable thing — and will make them want to spend more time with you!

— Respect: If you show sincere appreciation for the person’s time by sending a thank-you card, being punctual, and following up rigorously with feedback on all of the advice/referrals they share with you, you’ll be demonstrating to them that you respect their time, effort, and advice — which will make them feel good about themselves and encourage them to provide even more resources to you in the future.

— Reciprocity:
Many of the smartest networkers tend to base their largesse on the realization that they, themselves, might need a favor (or even job search assistance) one day; you should therefore make sure to stress, loud and clear, that you “owe them one” and will gladly return the favor down the road!

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