Networking is a two-way street. In our work with early careerists to develop sound networking strategies and practices, the role and receptivity of the recipient of the outreach is integral to making the networking effective.

If you are established in your career and are approached by a young professional, you may have the opportunity to provide invaluable assistance. Your first instinct might be that, amidst the challenges of balancing career and family responsibilities, an unexpected outreach might feel like an inconvenience. Please remember that you were once in their shoes. Understand that many young people are uncomfortable with networking and that it takes a certain level of bravery to reach out in the first place. You don’t need to be positioned to get someone hired or enter a deep mentoring relationship to make an impact – while bold gestures are certainly appreciated, small acts of support and kindness can also be tremendously helpful. If you’re able to give just a few minutes of your time, you might be able to make a major difference to a young person trying to navigate their early career.

In this New Year, here are a few steps you can take to lend a hand to an early careerist who reaches out to you:

Provide an Insider’s Perspective

If you have a position at a company or in an industry that is of interest to an early careerist, here are some concrete steps you can take to assist.

  • If your company has an employee referral program, you can enter the early careerist for consideration. Remember, through this process you are not writing a recommendation or otherwise staking your reputation on their success – you are simply tagging them as someone familiar to you.

  • Help them evaluate openings at your company and realistic roles they could potentially apply for.

  • If they have applied to your company and not heard back after an extended time period, consider seeing if the hiring team can issue a response.

  • Help facilitate a connection, such as an informational interview or an e-mail exchange with a contact you may have.

  • Suggest they join your professional organization as a junior member, or invite them to an event so that they can see people in action firsthand; even if virtual.

  • If they are active on LinkedIn, help promote their thoughts and opinions by commenting on articles they post.

Demonstrate Your Support Empathetically

  • Reflect on what you found helpful early on in your career and provide suggestions to them (understanding today’s competitive hiring landscape is different).

  • Provide feedback on their networking strategies – if their requests are overly complicated, suggest that they provide short, simple queries.

  • Look for ways to help, even if you can’t quickly provide what is asked for. For example, if you are very busy and they suggest a meeting, you can instead solicit questions via e-mail and offer to respond when you have time.

  • Share your own networking approaches with them, such as using the Alumni Search feature on LinkedIn.

  • Seek common ground, like a shared high school, fraternity chapter, or major – this can go a long way towards demystifying networking for young people; demonstrating how they might do so with others.

  • Help guide them in their networking. For example, suggest people for them to reach out to that you both know: “Not sure if you realize that your classmate Joe’s father works at that company?”

Help on Your Terms

You do not have to give your time immediately when asked, nor do you have to go above and beyond when solicited for guidance. But try to make it a goal to respond, even if you’re initially hesitant, or even if it will take time before you can give your attention. The simple act of being heard can be uplifting to an early careerist during a job search process that is defined by a lack of feedback. This is an incredibly challenging time for many young people looking for work – find a way to help that works for you, where you feel comfortable fulfilling a request on your terms. You might even offer a positive, simple response: “It is great to hear from you in ’21. I hope you are well. Let me think about what you asked me, and I will try to check back in with you soon. “

Remember, a small act of kindness can make a big difference. Someone who takes a moment to convey support or provide assistance or direction can have a lasting impact on the career of a young professional. And you never know who you will be working with or for in the future. The help you provide early careerists creates viable seeds of support, planted now, that may bloom when you need help in the future. Today’s job seeker will grow to become someone familiar with the future’s emerging talent – so not only are you acting with kindness, you may be paying it forward to yourself.