The Reciprocity Rule of Online Networking

By Peter Weddle • November 5, 2014

Peter Weddle
Peter Weddle,

It’s all the rage these days. If you’re in transition, you have to be using LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. But why? The rationale seems to be that if you can just reach the right person – no matter how distant and tenuous the link – you can depend on them to help you land a job. Best sellers have been made with such a claim, but in actuality, it’s more wishful thinking than a realistic expectation.

Stop and think about it. If you were in the place of some remote contact – if you were a friend of a friend of a Web connection – would you risk your reputation and credibility to stand up for someone who was essentially a stranger? I doubt it, and that reality is the invisible flaw in online networking today.

Tweetables[ctt tweet=”Follow the Golden Rule of Networking: Give as good as you get.” coverup=”NiCvV”]

If you want others to help you in your job search, then you must first be helpful to them.

Share your knowledge, wisdom, information and ideas with peers, friends and colleagues.

Networking on the Web is a contact sport. You need to keep developing connections, friends and followers—but more isn’t necessarily better.

Be selective. Don’t risk your reputation or your own job security by vouching for someone you don’t know.

As it’s currently practiced, networking on the Web is a contact sport. The more connections, friends and followers you have, the better. Your networking prowess is determined by the size of your address book.

What’s the purpose of all that effort? Apparently, it’s to increase the odds that someone might tell you about an opening you haven’t seen, or recommend you for a job you’re trying to land. The math makes sense, but the strategy doesn’t.

Why? Because it violates Mom’s Rule. What was the first lesson your mother taught you? That’s right, “Don’t speak to strangers.” Or, to put it in workplace terms, don’t risk your reputation or your own job security by vouching for someone you don’t know.

Now, some will say that violates the Golden Rule, but it depends on which Golden Rule you mean. You see, there are actually two: one for everyday human interaction and one for the interactions that occur in the job market.

  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you is a wonderful way to approach life. Its fundamental ethos is responsibility. We should hold ourselves to the same standards we apply to others.
  • While responsibility is also important in the job market, however, the fundamental ethos in that venue is reciprocity. Hence the Golden Rule of Networking is to give as good as you get. In other words, if you want others to help you in your job search, you must first be helpful to them.

Build Reciprocity in the Blink of an Eye

If networking is all about mutual support, there’s more involved than simply making contact. You have to transform those contacts into relationships. Or to put it another way, networking isn’t a contact sport, it’s a team sport. It’s colleagues coming together to help one another.

How do you establish those relationships? By investing the time and making the effort to share your knowledge, wisdom, information and ideas with peers, friends and colleagues. You look for ways to be of service to them so that they will be of service to you whenever you need it.

Developing such mutual support doesn’t occur overnight, however, so it’s best to get started before you find yourself in transition. That said, it is possible to generate at least some level of reciprocity in the blink of an eye, so you can rely on it during an active job search.

Here are a couple of ways to get started:

  • Join the discussion forum on a job board that specializes in your field or on the site of your professional society or trade association and take part regularly. (I recommend 3-4 times a week.) Look for ways to contribute to the conversation by providing information and insights that are helpful to the other participants.
  • Identify the most popular peer blog or LinkedIn group in your field and replicate your behavior on the discussion forum. Brand yourself as someone who contributes regularly and for the good of others.

Make those investments of your time and talent for a couple of weeks, and you’re likely to find at least some of your contacts have become relationships. And, relationships are the safety valve of Mom’s Rule. They transform strangers into people you can count on.

Thanks for reading,


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Peter Weddle is the author of over two dozen employment-related books, including A Multitude of Hope: A Novel About Rediscovering the American Dream, The Career Fitness Workbook: How to Find, Win & Hang Onto the Job of Your Dreams, The Career Activist Republic, The Success Matrix: Wisdom from the Web on How to Get Hired & Not Be Fired, and WEDDLE’s Guide to Employment Sites on the Internet.  Get them at and at the all new today.