4 Ways To Give Back To Your Professional Network

U.S. Army Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, help each other climb out of an irrigation canal Dec. 27, 2008.
U.S. Army photo

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on Hirepurpose’s Career Compass, a virtual library of the advice, guidance, and tips you need to find success in your civilian career.

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.

Pearl Harbor survivor Lauren Bruner attends the dual interment of fellow USS Arizona survivors John D. Anderson, boatswain's mate 2nd class, and Clarendon R. Hetrick, seaman 1st class, at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, as part of the 75th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor. (U.S. Navy/Petty Officer 2nd Class Somers Steelman)

Just before 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning 78 years ago, Lauren Bruner was preparing for church services and a date that would follow with a girl he'd met outside his Navy base.

The 21-year-old sailor was stationed as a fire controlman aboard the U.S. battleship USS Arizona, overseeing the vessel's .50-caliber guns.

Then alarms rang out. A Japanese plane had bombed the ship in a surprise attack.

It took only nine minutes for the Arizona to sink after the first bomb hit. Bruner was struck by gunfire while trying to flee the inferno that consumed the ship, the second-to-last man to escape the explosion that killed 1,177, including his best friend; 335 survived.

More than 70% of Bruner's body was burned. He was hospitalized for weeks.

Now, nearly eight decades after that fateful day, Bruner's ashes will be delivered to the sea that cradled his fallen comrades, stored in an urn inside the battleship's wreckage.

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Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

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