December 27, 2011
Be the Santa of intangibles -- all year long
When it comes to giving gifts to your friends and loved ones, surprising them with an iPad, kitchen gadget or gift card to their favorite restaurant might be the safest bet. But when it comes to giving back in some way to the people in your network who have lent you a helping hand during your job search, good news: Intangible gifts still rule the day!
Giving gifts in the networking process, you say? Absolutely. Whether you're tapping into your web of relationships for career or business purposes, it's important to recognize that networking is a reciprocal process -- and that most people will want to get something back for their time invested in you.
Don't worry, I'm not talking about financial compensation. Instead, the most accepted currency of the networking circuit happens to be things we all have in abundance -- and they don't cost a dime.
The gift of attention. When meeting with people, give them your full, undivided attention. Look them in the eye. Call them by name. Take notes. Avoid interrupting. Don't answer your cellphone if it rings; better yet, turn it off completely.
People can sense when your concentration is devoted to what they have to say. They appreciate it as a rare luxury in an age when it seems as if most people can't even sit through a short meeting without distractions or multitasking.
The gift of courtesy. Commit to showing up to each networking appointment on time, or a little early, and make a point to keep the meeting to the length of the time specified in the invitation. This shows respect for your contact's time.
Additionally, while a dabble of small talk is always a natural and acceptable part of the process, make sure you're also prepared with a crystal-clear agenda that outlines the specific things you need help with. This ensures optimal use of the time available.
The gift of gratitude. It sounds crazy, I know, but many good Samaritans out there report failing to receive a proper thank-you after providing assistance to people. So make sure to practice Networking 101 (not to mention good manners) by thanking everybody who assists you in a meaningful way during the course of your search.
Express your appreciation at the time of the meeting, and then thank them again with a card, email or thoughtful gesture. You might even make their day by submitting a testimonial for them on LinkedIn or another social-networking site, if they're into such things.
The gift of helpability. OK, I invented this word. What I mean by it is that when you ask people for advice, it's generally a smart idea to take it. By doing things that those in your network suggest -- such as reaching out to a few referral contacts, researching a company or reading a recommended book -- you'll demonstrate how much you value their advice, and they'll be that much more likely to help you out down the road.
Remember, most people help because they like to feel helpful. When you act on people's suggestions, follow through and don't drop the ball, it makes them feel like they really made a difference.
Ultimately, of course, there are times when a tangible gift or token of appreciation might be a perfectly appropriate way to thank the various people who do you a nice turn of favor. But if your budget is tight, or a tangible gift seems a bit silly or pretentious, remember that you have plenty of free gifts to give the people around you -- if you just get a little creative.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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