Contacts and networking, for many careers, are just as important (if not more important) than having qualifications. Take a situation, for example, where there is a pool of candidates for a job that all have a similar GPA, work experiences and perhaps even alma mater. Who is most likely to get the job? Someone who has worked on developing and maintaining their network will not only be more likely to get a job in this case, but to be the first one called if it doesn’t work out. People that develop their networks gain skills along the way that help in the maintenance of these networks. For instance, skills acquired could include charismatic speech, email etiquette, and general eloquence.

In sum, Social Capital is the practice of developing and maintaining relationships that form social networks willing to help each other. The network that you create is a reflection of you, so be sure to network with people that are willing to be respectful and helpful rather than helping push forward their own goals and initiatives. These networks preform best when you have a large network of people from different areas, careers and backgrounds. There is a lot of interplay between different careers so it can be really useful to know people in a field unrelated to yours!

Your social network can be comprised of peers, career professionals and other contacts such as family friends or past professors. So, you may be asking, How does social capital work for people? :

  • Close relationships can help you find a job by connecting you with other people in their network.
  • A peer in your major can give you advice on courses you’ll be taking
  • College alumni can help you with building connections and general advice for the career
  • People who live near you can help you with minor tasks if you’ll help them as well
  • Members of your local organizations can advocate for you

In essence, when you have built apt social capital you get the feeling that people”have your back” throughout your experiences. Networking does not come with a guarantee of getting something in return, but it can be helpful in ways that you may not expect even if it doesn’t end up in a new job or connection. It can result in a mentoring relationship that cultivates your skill set. Networking can also help teach you how to properly represent yourself and more importantly how to advocate for yourself.

Now, the most important question still remains: How do you build your own social capital?

1. Maintain a professional / business demeanor

It’s important, especially at the start, to maintain a professional demeanor. This means responding respectfully and usually within 48 hours. Furthermore, it means sticking to the topic at hand and avoiding topics that could breed controversy or result in an unfavorable interaction. In terms of clothes, dress suitably for the occasion (make sure to determine if it will be business casual or formal) by utilizing school resources and deals ahead of time.

2. Form a Diverse Network

It’s a great idea to have connections across disciplines since so many careers are now so multi-disciplinary in nature. Furthermore, the more solid connections you have also means you, in a small way, have access to their connections as well which may be more in your field of study.

3. Reciprocate Help

When you’re starting out it may be hard to think of why you could be a resource to mentors and professionals. However, they can also tap into your insights for ideas on how their branding appeals to students or for further recruitment they might ask for your recommendations. Make yourself as helpful as possible to people that have or will help you as well.