By: Sean Massa
network (n) : a group of people or organizations that are closely connected and that work with each other
During high school and my first few days of college, I remember lots of people talking about how important it was to “network” with your peers. Network at your jobs. Network in your classes. Network wherever you find yourself. But what exactly does it mean to network?
- Social: “You are who your friends are.”
Our friendships come in a variety of forms: from the friends you see once and never again to the friendships that last a lifetime. In many ways these friendships shape our habits, our ambitions, and our happiness. It is important to recognize and to invest time in your social network. Just make sure you balance your real life interactions with your virtual ones.
- Professional: “It's not about what you know. It's about who you know.”
This is probably the way people use networking the most. Through your contacts, you can find employment recommendations and opportunities. Whether you are a student seeking out a summer internship or a recent graduate seeking to be hired, networking can help you chase your next professional experience. Sometimes knowing a contact personally can help you get your foot-in-the-door to a number of competitive positions. Make sure to also use your business networks online. LinkedIn is designed to make the most of business networks: by connecting you to people and companies through your network of peers, friends, coworkers, etc. It's essentially the Facebook for the business world.
- Academic: “Where did you go to school?”
Okay so this isn't really an idiom, but it's a question you will get all the time after graduating. The people you spend countless hours studying and taking classes with may just be the next big CEO or President. This is true no matter whether you are in 6th grade or your last year of university. Sometimes you may even benefit from the branding of your school (e.g. never a bad thing to have Stanford or Harvard on the resume) Make sure to keep in touch with a number of people from your high school or college, no matter where you attend, and to add them to your LinkedIn networks. Who knows? They could be the next Barack Obama, Angelina Jolie, or Steve Jobs...
- Everything else: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”
Networks can and may already provide you with a number of benefits. Sometimes you can find support. Sometimes you can find interesting acquaintances. Sometimes you can find the admissions officer to your dream school. The key to contributing and maintaining a healthy network is to always actively contribute to ongoing conversations and to be mindful, respectful, and genuinely interested in the other person. Don't seek out “using” other people and don't be disingenuous. Be yourself and be authentic. Simple rules, but you would be surprised at how far this might take you.