Are You Asking Too Much (Or Too Little) from Your Network?

Sgt. Maj. John E. Bankus (right) and Lt. Col. David G. Bardorf shake hands after Bankus relinquished his position as battalion sergeant major. (Petty Officer 1st Class John P. Stone/U.S. Navy photo)

In your transition from the military to civilian culture, you've been told that networking is important to career success. You've heard networking is how people get jobs, get resources and get ahead.

Are you leveraging your relationships and contacts correctly? If you ask for too much, ask too soon or fail to let your network know how they can help you, the relationship can fall flat.

Asking for Too Much, Too Soon?

Here's what it looks like if you ask for too much, too soon: Joe requests to connect with Mary online. Mary is a well-respected coach and author on executive communications, and Joe is a fan of her work. Upon accepting his request to connect on LinkedIn, Joe follows up with a message praising Mary's work, complimenting her commitment to ensure her followers are successful. Mary responds with a note of appreciation for the kind words and thanks Joe for his military service.

Joe then emails Mary (after finding her email address in the contact section of her profile):

Hello, Mary -- Great to know you on LinkedIn. I know you are an expert in communications and, as I transition out of the military, I would like you to please review my resume (attached), cover letter (also attached), LinkedIn profile (link), Instagram account (link) and elevator pitch (see below). I want to ensure they are all on point.

Also, can we schedule a time to speak by phone? I'd like to refine my verbal communication skills, so they match my writing -- and you're an expert here! I'm available Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday of this week at 3 p.m. EST, if that works with your schedule ...

Joe has crossed the networking line. He's jumped from "nice to meet you," to "here's a long list of what I need you to do for me." And, if Mary's business is providing this feedback and coaching at a fee, Joe has now asked her to do this for free (or implied as much).

Mary may feel generous and want to help. She may offer to mentor Joe and coach him. But the offer should be her choice and not thrust upon her.

Asking Too Little?

Similar to asking for too much, often networking contacts fail to ask at all, or ask too late. Consider this example:

Joan and Susan are online connections. On a business trip through Susan's city, Joan asked to meet for coffee.

They had a great meeting, full of rich stories of their past military careers, their challenges in transitioning to the civilian sector and hobbies they share. They talked about their families, travel adventures and favorite movies, too. When she left the meeting, Joan was unaware that Susan's company is currently hiring for a general counsel with expertise in military protocols. Joan also didn't know that her own resume was an ideal fit for the type of legal expert Susan's employer seeks.

The one thing Susan and Joan didn't discuss is what Joan is looking for as she exits the military, the type of work she's pursuing, or how her skills and passion could be an asset to Susan's company. Joan forgot to let her valuable networking contact know what she's looking for and how Susan could help her.

Your network is there to help you, support you and advocate for what you need. But they must feel a desire to want to help you (that's why rapport and mutual benefit are critical). They also should be empowered to know how to help you (does your network know what you need and how they can serve you?).

Give your network the tools and information to help you and then reciprocate with gratitude, assistance and support when they ask.

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