Give and Take

In March 2014, a candidate called me asking if my search firm had job openings that might interest him. I asked him to send his Resume. Until that point….it was like any of the 1000s of conversations I’ve had over the years as a search firm consultant.

Then, he asked me if there was anything he could do for me.

“What do you mean?” I asked

“I saw your LinkedIn profile and I know you’re in Business Development. I may have friends / colleagues who could be interested in empanelling your search firm — would you be keen to discuss this with them?”

“Absolutely!” I replied.

A few days later, I received his email. He had sent his Resume together with the names of 2 Recruiting Managers — one was his wife’s friend working in a large Pharmaceutical company, and the other was the name of the Recruitment Manager at his company.

I passed on the names to my BD team, and forwarded his Resume to my recruiters asking them to add his Resume to our database.

Oddly, I couldn’t stop there. I felt obligated to help him – almost as if I owed him. After all, he had gone out of his way to give me something. I put on my networking hat and got to work. I made a few calls and set up an interview for this candidate.

Here’s the thing: His profile wasn’t exceptional — he wasn’t from an Ivy League university, and neither was he a stellar performer at his company.

His job search strategy, however, was stellar. Knowingly or unknowingly, he had engaged me in a Game of Reciprocity.

What is Reciprocity?

Reciprocity, in simplest terms, means Giving before Taking. The principle states that when you do something positive for a person, he / she is more likely to respond with a positive action as well. Do something good for someone, and very likely, the favour will be returned.

Reciprocity is a powerful principal in Social Psychology. Experiments [1, 2, 3] conducted in the field of social psychology show that Reciprocity is a powerful motivator — it compels people to respond.

Why does Reciprocity work so well?

1. Reciprocity creates a strong sense of obligation. Reciprocating to good deeds is an innate urge.

2. It creates Likeability and Trust. You’re wired to respond to someone you Like and Trust. Reciprocity creates Likeability and Trust almost instantly.

When you don’t create Reciprocity, your voice becomes noise – you become like the 100s of other candidates vying for jobs. And what do people do with noise? They ignore it.

So how do you create Reciprocity? How do you Give before you Take?

I’ve listed 2 methods for infusing Reciprocity into your job search.

Method 1: Finding a Job by Creating New Connections.

1. List the target organizations you want to work for. Then find the people in these organizations who can get you an interview (LinkedIn, Google, Peer group) — they could be within your function of work, or they could be in HR.

2. Ask them for an interview with their firm (over email, LinkedIn, Phone), and also ask them if you can help them in any way. For instance: If you’re reaching out to the HoD, ask the person if he / she needs any candidates for any of the other vacancies in the department. Prior research using LinkedIn, or the company’s Career pages, will greatly aid your research efforts and it will help you identify the “buttons you need to push.”

3. Open your network and spread the word.

4. Set a date to wrap it up. Respond on that date even when you’re not successful in your attempt. Trying is more important than succeeding. If you try, eventually you will succeed. But you’ll never succeed if you don’t try.

Method Two: Finding a Job by Nurturing existing connections.

When you come across a job opportunity, take a minute to think of the people in your circle who could benefit from it. Pass the opportunity to your friends. Do this regularly – week after week.


Succeeding in a Job Search requires specific tools. And Reciprocity is a very powerful tool. When you actively start sharing relevant job opportunities with your friends, and start asking if you can be of help, people will respond favourably. You’ll find that they’ll go out of their way to help you get interviews and connect you with people in organizations you want to enter — you’ll find opportunities pouring in from unexpected quarters.

People like it when you connect them to others. When you spend time connecting people and helping others succeed, you’ll find that others will spend more time helping you succeed.

I use the Principle of Reciprocity every day in my work. The results have been nothing short of amazing. I’ve found that the end goal of Reciprocity, most of the time, is connecting 2 individuals who fill each other’s needs. And then both those individuals are happy to reciprocate and help me with my goals.

I encourage you to try the above steps for a couple of weeks. Have you already experienced the power of Reciprocity? Share your thoughts below.


1. “A theory of reciprocity.” Armin Falk & Urs Fischbacher (February 2006).

2. “Reciprocal concessions procedure for inducing compliance: The door-in-the-face technique.” Cialdini, et al. (1975). 

3. “Effects of a favor and liking on compliance.” Regan, R. T. (1971).