As a job seeker, it's not uncommon for your focus to be all about you when you get ready to transition out of military service: You need to find a job. You must relocate your family. You need to figure out what to do next. You are facing opportunities and challenges you might feel unprepared for.
Networking, however, is about mutual benefit. Relationships – personal and professional – thrive when both parties feel satisfied that they receive as much as they give. Reciprocity doesn't have to be equal in terms of, "I helped you find a job, therefore you need to help me find one," but they should be of equal value and significance.
The challenge comes when one person is focused on themselves, and their needs, to the exclusion of the reciprocity arrangement. Then, the relationship feels more like "taking" and not "giving" and is lopsided.
How Do You Know if There Is Imbalance?
To determine whether you have been taking more than you give, ask yourself these questions: 1. What are three things I've asked for help with lately? For example, consider: Have I asked my contacts to review my resume, make introductions for me, coach me through a job interview, provide me with feedback on my body language? Have I enlisted support managing the frustrations of the job search process? Am I asking for regular calls with my contacts or do I insist we meet in person? 2. Am I keeping notes about how people help me, and what I do to reciprocate? After a meeting with someone in my network, am I detailing the advice that was shared and the action I need to take? When I'm introduced to a new contact, am I following up with a thank you note to my networking contact? How am I tracking the results from the information, input, and advice I'm given? 3. How do I express gratitude for the things I receive? When someone in my network helps me, how am I showing my appreciation? Do I write a handwritten note every time I am assisted? Am I emailing them to follow up on the action I took from their advice? Do I ask them how I can help and serve them as reciprocity?
If you find these questions unanswerable, then it's likely you have not been reciprocating in your networking. This is problematic. Over time, those who have helped you might be less inclined to continue to offer support, encouragement, leads, and advice if they don't feel appreciated, served or benefitted in some way.
Need to Right the Ship?
If your answers to these questions reveal that you have not practiced balanced networking, and have in fact taken more than you've given to those individuals who have helped you, it's time to fix things.
To remedy the relationship and re-establish a healthy balance, try these actions:
1. Own up to the imbalance. Call, email or meet in person with someone who has given you more than you've given in return. Acknowledge the imbalance and apologize for losing sight of the key aspect of networking relationships: give and take. Don't expect the relationship to be quickly re-established, but an honest and genuine apology goes a long way! 2. After acknowledging there is an imbalance, and you've benefited more than they have, ask for suggestions on how you can reciprocate going forward. What would be of value to them that you could offer? Do they want feedback on the advice and support they've provided to you? Would they like a recommendation or testimonial speaking to the impact their advice or support gave you? 3. After trying #1 and #2, accept the fact that the other person may have built up resentment at the one-sided nature of the relationship and not want to move forward. Human beings are emotional and feelings may have been hurt. It is still worth your time to attempt to remedy the relationship.
As a job seeker focused on taking care of your situation and career, it is very easy to pay attention only to your needs and goals. The point of networking, however, is for relationships to be mutually beneficial. When two people gain from the professional relationship, the networking thrives.