At its core, networking (i.e. the ability to build effective, lasting relationships) is centered around an emotional barter system.  If you can consistently make the people around you feel that they’ll get as much (or more) out of a relationship with you as they’ll ever be asked to put into it, you’ll have no shortage of people lining up to sing your praises — or to call you their friend.  In fact, after a few months of practicing this philosophy, I’d suspect you’d find yourself richer in “social capital” than you ever thought possible!

And yet, while many people may understand this at the theoretical level, it’s not always easy to implement this principle in day-to-day practice if haven’t been in an profession or situation where regular networking is a common requirement.  So for many people, when I work with them on cranking their job search efforts up to the next level, I start by discussing this “give to get” philosophy and the idea that despite their employment status, they should still be seeking to help others as much (or more) than they seek to help themselves.  Opportunities for reciprocal assistance abound.  And if you need a great “training wheels” tip to help you get into this habit, simply remember to ask “how can I help you?” at some appropriate point in your conversations with people.  This question alone immediately sets you apart from 95% of the folks out there on the networking circuit who are either focusing entirely on their own selfish needs — or who, again, are well-intentioned people who just haven’t had much practice lately in cultivating and strengthening new relationships.

Along these lines, let me pass along an uplifting and very enthusiastic voicemail message I received the other day from a client of mine who is searching for a senior human resources position.  This client, who gave me permission to share his words, called to relate the following story after attending one of my workshops on networking:

“Hey Matt!  Just wanted to give you a quick heads-up.  I had an interesting chance today to practice that give-to-get technique we talked about the other day.  I know this thought of asking people ‘how I can help them’ seems like it should be a no-brainer, but I’ll confess, I never do it.  So I was sitting there today at Starbucks, thinking about the concept, and when the time came for me to go up and get a refill, I asked the manager behind the counter  ‘How could I, as a customer, help you?’

For a minute, I wasn’t sure what she was going to say.  Her eyes got kind of wide and she kind of froze.  Then she said ‘well, I guess you could fill out a comment card.’  I said ‘okay, where’s the card’ and she showed me where it was.  So I asked her what the best way was to use the card and she said the best results would come, actually, by making a phone call to Starbucks, instead.  So I said ‘okay, what are the names I should use?’ and she quickly grabbed the card and started writing down names — her own name, the name of the barista that was there, the store name, and so forth.  At that point, I simply said ‘thank you, I’m going to follow up on this’ and it felt great, because she was SO appreciative!  It was just amazing, the chemistry that was there.

So anyway, I went ahead and called the Starbucks customer comment line and left a nice message.  I even left my phone number and said I’d love to get a call from the district manager to follow up on this.  So who knows?  I might get a call from one of their executives and of course, if that happens, I’ll talk with him or her about my experience and might also mention that I’m looking for work and would like the chance to dialogue about the HR needs of Starbucks a little bit.  And I’ll probably try asking him/her the very same ‘how can I help you?’ question just to see what happens.  Interesting, isn’t it?  It’s amazing how powerful this one little thought can be about focusing on how you can help others.  You’d think from my HR perspective this idea would already be on my mind, but I’ll admit, it wasn’t.  So thanks again for the very useful tip and I thought I’d just give you this feedback.  We’ll see what happens!”

Just think: if even 10% more of the population focused on figuring out how to provide assistance to those around them, versus concentrating entirely their own wants and needs, the job market (and world in general) would be a very different place!  And arguably a much more decent and productive place, as well…