The benefits of a well-managed network of professional contacts are clear. Networking can increase your chances of getting an interview with an otherwise busy recruiter, and it is especially useful for helping newly separated veterans adjust to new industries and professional expectations. However, thinking of networking exclusively as a way to get help and get ahead is a limited and self-centered understanding of networking and ignores the importance of giving back to your professional contacts by keeping them in mind when you see an opportunity for them.
Here are four ways that giving back to the people in your network is better for everyone in the long term:
1. Giving will help your professional reputation.
If you are a “taker” (someone who seeks to always balance out their interactions with others in their own favor), people will figure it out, and won’t want to help you. On the other hand, gaining a reputation as a “giver” (someone who gives without calculating out the potential reward) means that people will come to you as a trusted and reliable ally when they have a question or need help. This doesn’t mean you should let people walk all over you; you just want to help when and where you can. This will make for deeper and more meaningful professional relationships, while your good reputation will precede you everywhere you go.
2. Giving empowers you.
Networking is an enormous loop, with ideas, favors, and contacts flowing in both directions. Don’t cut yourself out of any part of this cycle just because you’re early in your career and you don’t think you have anything to offer. As a veteran, you have valuable life experience and training that give you an unusual perspective. Even simple things like helping to edit a cover letter or admissions essay for school can be a huge help for someone who is stressed out. As a rule of thumb, if it will take you less than five minutes and the person is not famously selfish, then don’t waste much time debating whether to help; just do it. For longer or more intense commitments, use your judgment and be fair to yourself as well as your contacts.
3. Giving back keeps you energized.
During a long job search, it can be difficult to stay motivated. People say that finding a job should be your actual job when you are searching. This isn’t always realistic and can quickly lead to fatigue and a sense of hopelessness if interviews and offers are still scarce after a few months. Spending a little time every day doing small favors for the people in your own network can help to keep you energized and engaged over this long haul.
4. Do unto others.
It’s a truism that most industries are small enough that after a few years you will start to see the same faces. People will remember when you help them, and sooner or later, you will get back what you put in. More often than not, the best job leads and career advice will come to you from people in your professional network; be good to these people and they will be good to you.
5. Being a “Giver” today.
In the Age of the Internet, being a “giver” can be as simple as answering an email, retweeting someone’s exciting new article or idea, or sending an introductory email for a contact to someone else that you know. These kinds of acts literally cost you nothing but a little time, and they can mean everything to someone who is struggling with their own job search woes.