Navigating Networks – How Does that Work?

Networking can be a tricky topic to navigate, especially for fresh-faced new college grads that have just been released into a world that, after all this time, they’re now being told is the real one.

“Wait, this is the real world?” they ask, “Then what the heck was all that back there? Don’t tell me that was all some wacky Matrix malarkey!”

No, don’t worry, you haven’t been trapped in the Matrix this whole time. At least I don’t think so…but believe it or not all of that socializing you’ve been doing your whole life actually can be applied to help you network and find jobs. So while you thought you were taking a break from the books to make friends you were actually preparing for your future at the same time. This is supported by the idea of managing weak and strong social ties which was explained in my portfolio seminar class the other day by our guest speaker Dr. Elaine Yakura.

Strong social ties, Dr. Yakura told us, are the people in your life that are really rooting for you, who care about you and where you’re headed. In most cases these are your friends and family. When you need to go to someone for help these are the first people you think of. They can and probably often do help you, not out of obligation, but out of love and mutual respect formed over the years of your relationship. However, one downside of strong social ties is that they form only a select group of people in our lives. This group is small, which means it is also limited in the scope of assistance it can offer. Say, for example, you’re moving to a new city to enroll in an art program to which you’ve just been accepted and it starts in a couple weeks, but you don’t know anyone in there and you still need to search for an apartment and don’t have anywhere to stay. What do you do?

This is where weak social ties come into play.

Dr. Yakura described a scenario just like this to us and told us how it was solved with the help of weak social ties. It was actually a daughter of an old friend of her’s that was in this situation. The weak social tie to the daughter in this case was Dr. Yakura’s son who happened to be in the same program. Because the daughter talked to her immediate network, her mother became aware of the problem and reached out to Dr. Yakura to ask if her son could provide a place for her daughter to stay and help her search for an apartment. Neither of the two children knew each other, but through the friendship of their mothers they had a weak social tie which was able to provide a timely solution.

Of course, this concept isn’t all that new. We’ve all heard plenty of stories about friends of friends helping each other out. However, the real takeaway is not just that there are many other people out there that we may be marginally connected to, but that we should force ourselves to become aware of who these people are so that we can remember them when the time comes, whether this is when they can help us or if we can potentially help them.

One way to do this is to actually map it out, either in your head or on paper. It might end up looking something like this:

Social Ties Map 2

Weak social ties may not always pull through, but you could be surprised at how often people will agree to help out another person with a mutual connection.

Aside from weak and strong social ties Dr. Yakura also touched upon several other networking topics. Here is the short and sweet version I managed to glean from my notes.

Social Media

  • Put information out to your network, not to ask for things, but to let people know what you’re up to
  • When people have a better understanding of what you’re all about and what your values are they’ll be more likely to reach out to you
  • Don’t post too much

Introductions

  • Speak loud
  • Say your name clearly
  • If your name is difficult to spell or pronounce it doesn’t hurt to clarify, people are often interested in unique names and they’ll want to know how to say it correctly
  • Offer them an easier way to remember how to say or spell your name (ex. “Brichta” with a hard k sound, like Another Brick in the Wall)

Handshakes

  • Reach until the webbing between your thumb and index finger touches theirs so that your not just handing them your fingers
  • Shake firmly
  • DON’T touch your index finger to the inside of their wrist (Apparently I’d heard this somewhere but the consensus was that it isn’t comfortable for the other person)

General

  • Watch people you admire and try to imitate them (Not to copy them exactly, but just to see if their techniques feel right for you)
  • Tailor your message (elevator pitch) to the person you are speaking to
  • Practice at career fairs, MSU tailgates, family or holiday gatherings etc.
  • It can never hurt just to let people know you’re looking for a job

So networking can seem like a scary and intimidating task to a lot of people, especially those of us who don’t feel outgoing all of the time, but there are a lot of ways to utilize the network that you’ve already built up over the course of your life.

One more very important thing to note is that networking should not be just about what you can gain from others. It’s not just schmoozing (wow I even feel gross typing that word) and sucking up to people. It should be based, as much as possible, on real connections that are built on mutual respect, meaning that you will be just as willing to help others when you get the opportunity. This is why it is a great idea to start from your pool of strong ties and branch out from there.

I was talking about this with my sister recently and she highly recommended to me a book she was reading on this exact topic called Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. In this book Ferrazzi makes it clear that he wants connect with people through generosity. My sister was kind enough to share one of her favorite quotes which I think perfectly sums up his mindset and the true end goal of the practice of networking.

“Ultimately, making your mark as a connector means making a contribution – to your friends and family, to your company, to your community, and most important, to the world – by making the best use of your contacts and talents.” – Keith Ferrazzi

Article by Mike Brichta

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