We identified the problem.
When I was the managing career consultant of DBM Houston, I would host a Monday huddle with my clients to talk about their challenges.  Inevitably, when the topic of networking arose, it would create tension.  Some of the attendees, I noticed, would unconsciously back up from the conference table at the mere mention of the word.

I quickly realized that what was most upsetting to many of them about networking was asking someone for something:  an industry or company contact, information on company culture, or even the contact information of a person with whom they were conversing.  The job seeker felt as if he or she were coming to someone with "hat in hand" asking for a gift with nothing to give back.  They found the interaction, in itself, embarrassing and demeaning.  Some job seekers used the word "ashamed".  [No doubt, some were also recalling, painfully, how they dismissed job seekers who needed their help when they were comfortably employed.]

 I got it.

Now we had to figure out what to do about it
As we talked further we concluded that if they had something to give in return, they would feel more like an equal.  It would create a more comfortable, mutual exchange.  But what could they give?  Not money, of course. They needed some time and real-life situations to figure out this part.

So I assigned a task, "For next Monday's huddle, review your lists of desired contacts and target companies to determine the person who can give you the information you need regarding that contact or company. Define what you might offer of value to each of these people, something that would make you feel confident that you were in a true 'give and take' situation."

Aha!  There is a solution.
As they shared their ideas the following week, they communicated that they realized that they had assets to leverage even if they didn't have a job.  They included in their assets to leverage: research capabilities, sophisticated job search software and news feeds with the latest info on companies, industries, salaries, and roles.  And they had time.  Something people with whom they were engaging did not have.  They also realized that the more the gift reflected an understanding of the recipient, the better.  So they stayed away from anything controversial.

You can integrate these ideas into your own strategy for building relationships:
  • A petroleum engineer, one of many energy-related clients we had in the office at the time, was already compiling a "news bulletin" (today it would be a blog!) on energy trends and forecasts gleaned from various online sources.  As a "thank you" he started sending his news bulletin to new contacts and to anyone who helped him in his search.
  • An HR manager invited potential supporters to coffee bringing a small batch of his wife's incredible chocolate chip cookies.  He would designate new contacts as members of his "Cookie Club."  People did not forget him or those cookies. 
             [Note: the key here is homemade, uncontroversial, and low-to-no
             monetary value.  Avoid flowers, box of store-bought candy, or any
             other item that could appear personal.]
  • Because these job seekers had learned how to access salary information and were researching prospective employers, some provided (readily accessible vs. confidential/proprietary) information in exchange for information they needed from "someone on the inside".
  • Others emailed or “snail-mailed” articles of interest to the recipient.  By the way, the articles weren't necessarily work-related.  I recall a newspaper article that listed the best fishing holes located within an hour of Houston sent by a job seeker to a recruiter who was an avid fisherman.

The challenge to find the right "gift" for each recipient produced another benefit.  The task, as thoughtful gift-giving often does, deepened the relationship between the givers and receivers. 

Recipients appreciated that the job seeker had put some thought (no matter how small) behind their "gift" and were more likely to recall the person who had taken the time to do so.  The job seekers began to view networking as bigger than a "business card sharing arrangement" and to value the process as an opportunity to build an authentic relationship with someone, including the future beyond their job search.

This is how it works
You might be wondering how, exactly, the actual exchange took place.  Clearly, it was important to make it casual and fitting with their personalities.  Here are some of the ways you can give back to those who support you in your search without "making a big deal" of it:
  • Give the "gift" - a printed map/article/infographic/handy chart, bag of cookies - as an aside in a get-together.
  • Send it as part of a “thank you” email.
  • Include it as a clipping in a "snail-mail" fold-over card.
  • When calling the contact, offer in a casual way, "By the way, I have an article you might enjoy on the new plant being built.  I'll email you a link." Or "I noticed on LinkedIn that you have a blog on training methodologies.  I really liked what you said about performance support and posted a comment."
  • Send a link to an article with a brief note: "Apparently we're not the only ones who think ____ is a good idea."  Or "Check out this handy chart on ___" written on a clever post card.
  • At a networking-type event, ask someone you meet, and with whom you would like to stay connected, for contact information to send an article or link to a blog on a topic of common interest, or the name of someone to connect with on LinkedIn, or to follow on Twitter. 
            [Note:  This approach not only captures the contact info for the future, but also forces
            you to find out what interests the recipient - the core of building relationships!]

It's nice when the solution to a problem makes everyone the recipient of a gift!

What I hope you got from this story: 
You do have something to offer others even as you ask for help from them.

Take action: 
Keep an open mind as you brainstorm ways you can help others who help you.  Think back to when you were employed.  What did you wish you had more time to do while you were employed?  What data or information  would have been helpful to you in your job?  What connections or information do you have to share with others? 

Not in a job search?  Someone you love probably is.  And this post is about a real issue with a lot of job searchers.  They're embarrassed to ask for help.  Share this with them, please.



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