Quick tip for those of you out there who are still fairly new to the networking game: the reason that most people (e.g. professional peers, recruiters, service providers, former colleagues…) will want to help you with your job search is not to get rich or to have you “owe them one” down the road.  Instead, most will want to help you because they see themselves as good people, at heart, and are genuinely hoping that some little piece of advice they give, or a referral they provide, will turn out to play a significant part in your eventual success — and in helping you get your career back on track.

The consequence of this reality (as I see it) is twofold.  First, you can’t afford to short-circuit a person’s desire to help you by not knowing exactly what help you need, in the first place.  It’s your job, not theirs, to point out ways in which they could really make a meaningful difference in your search process, whether this involves providing some resume feedback, serving as a reference, providing you with tips on how to get a job in their industry, or sharing some referrals to specific categories of people you identify — or that work at target companies you’ve outlined for them in list format.  Unless you can ask for help in this type of specific way, both sides are likely to get frustrated, since the old chestnuts “Do you know any companies I should target?” or “Do you know any people I should talk to?” are way too vague for the average person to do much with, as sincerely as they might want to help you out.

What’s the second consequence that comes with people having a helpful spirit?   Once somebody has done you a favor, they’ll never get the emotional payoff unless you follow up to let them know their advice panned out — or that the help they provided led you to some positive progress.  And even if it didn’t end up helping much, there’s certainly much to be gained simply by thanking them again for their efforts.  In this fashion, the savviest networkers follow up with their allies and contacts religiously, since they recognize that doing so creates a “positive feedback loop” where everybody wins.  You walk away with some helpful advice and introductions, and the other party gets to bask in the warm glow of doing their good deed for the day — and lending a hand to somebody in need!

Obviously, I wouldn’t be pushing this advice if I thought this concept was universally understood or that people practiced enough follow-up in their networking efforts, on average.  So if you’re in transition, or fairly new to the professional networking process, take these thoughts to heart.  They literally can make or break the most important job-creation channel of all — those leads that come from word of mouth!