In the opening scene of the 1972 classic, The Godfather, Don Corleone (The Godfather) and Bonasera (the undertaker) engage in a conversation around favors. Bonasera desires justice to be served on the young men who assaulted his daughter. After some discussion, Don Corleone agrees to punish the guilty and in return, he informs Bonasera, “Someday, and that day may never come, I’ll call upon you to do a service for me.”
This famous scene delivers a powerful lesson about networking etiquette. Ignore the type of ‘service’ that Don Corleone is willing to provide – instead, focus on the foundation of the agreement. One individual is willing to assist another who is in need, and in return an offer is made to reciprocate in the future. This willingness to reciprocate is vitally important to one’s success in networking.
In my networking efforts, I always offer at the end of the conversation or email, “If I can be of assistance to you, I would be happy to repay the kindness you have extended me.” Most of the time, as the Godfather indicated, “…that day may never come”, though I know individuals appreciated the offer of assistance should they need me. People whom I reach out to for help understand that I am willing to help them as well – it has become part of who I am and how I am known. You could say, it has become part of my professional brand.
Some unemployed individuals, recent graduates, or current students will often question what they can offer to a networking contact. The most common requests I have heard made by a networking contact to a mentee, are:
- Helping in staffing an alumni club event (if networking through an alumni chapter)
- Meeting with someone in the future who is in the job search to relay strategies/advice
- Speaking with a son/daughter about college (especially true for students who are networking with alumni)
- Introduction to a professional you know/are connected to
Two years ago I met with a young man who was on the swim team at the university where I worked. I helped him with a resume, gave him tips on networking, provided access to online resources, etc. – and at the end of the meeting, I asked him for tips on swimming as I swam as part of an exercise routine. He was able to assist me with a need (improving my swimming technique) in an area where he had expertise. He was able to reciprocate.
You never know how you may be able to provide a “service” for someone in need – as long as you are willing to reciprocate with an offer of assistance in the future, it is an offer that even Don Corleone couldn’t refuse!