Question: I’ve heard that I’m supposed to reciprocate when someone in my network helps me. But I’m just getting out of the military. I don’t have anything to offer. What can I do?
Answer: Yes, a key element of networking – and relationship building – is reciprocity. Serving those who serve you is vital to keep your network balanced.
In social psychology, reciprocity is defined as “responding to a positive action with another positive action, rewarding kind actions.” But sometimes all you have of value to offer the other person is your gratitude for their time, help, support or information.
Here are 20 ways you can show someone in your network your gratitude:
- Thank-you note. A handwritten, personalized and specific note expressing what you’re grateful for is meaningful. Most people do not take the time to pen a note, so a handwritten expression has value.
- Endorsement on LinkedIn. Endorse them for a skill they list on their profile that relates to how they served you. It’s as simple as clicking a button.
- Personal email. If you want to express gratitude quickly, an email can suffice. Personalize the note so they don’t perceive it as a “cut and paste” message. Point out what they offered that was valuable and how you intend to act on their advice.
- Referral or introduction. As you exit the military, your contacts may be all service-related, but perhaps there’s someone in your circle who would be good for your networking contact to know. Facilitate the introduction to start their conversation.
- Small gift or token. A small token of appreciation is acceptable. Refrain from anything expensive or grand, as that sends the wrong message.
- Book on a subject they’re interested in. Did they mention they’ll be traveling to France this summer? What about a book on local museums for them to consider? Did they recently adopt a rescue dog? A book on early training tips could be valuable. A book on something they’re interested in will show that you listen when they share.
- Gift card. Couldn’t get out of the office to meet for coffee? Consider a small gift card to a local coffee shop in lieu of meeting in person. Remember: small denominations only.
- Offer help or assistance. Is there something you know how to do that would serve them? Do they need help with their LinkedIn profile, elevator pitch or resume? If you’ve learned these skills as you transition from the military, you could share your insight.
- Call and let them know how what they said or did impacted you. A quick call with details about the influence they had on you is very meaningful.
- Donation to an organization or cause they value. I’ve done this for clients when I know they have a personal tie to a charity that’s meaningful to them. The fact that I listened and then supported what they care about is meaningful to them.
- Be a sounding board. Listen, and validate them, when they vent or share news or information. You don’t have to solve their problem; just listen.
- Follow up. In the days or weeks after they helped you, let them know how things turned out.
- Write a recommendation on LinkedIn. If they’re open to this, ask what specific qualities they’d like you to mention.
- Give them a shoutout on the social media platform. A mention, tagging them in the post, can bring attention to their helpfulness.
- Take on a project they are too overwhelmed to do. Even offering to mow their lawn or help with their meal preparation could be the respite they most need.
- Make something for them. Personal gifts can be great! Are you good with graphics? A cartoon of the both of you completing a project is fun. Passionate about gardening? Prepare a small herb garden for them.
- Invite them to do something in person. From sporting events to grabbing coffee and catching up, people miss in-person gatherings after the pandemic.
- Give offline recognition. If you work with the person, use time in a team meeting to point out how they helped you so others can recognize their contribution.
- Be present. When they share with you or offer input and advice, refrain from distractions and show that you are fully present and absorbing their valuable insight.
- Pay it forward. Is there someone in your network you could help in the same way they helped you? This can be the most significant way of showing gratitude.
As you think of ways to thank someone who’s helped you, get creative and personalize the gratitude. This is a great way to express appreciation and encourage others to want to continue to help.
The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty” (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.
A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.
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