Given the prevalence of building a strong network and its necessity to gain entry-difficult positions in places such as Wall Street and Silicon Valley, it is rather useful to have an approach to building your own. There are valuable practices and habits that can lend themselves to establishing long-lasting relationships for mutual gain. The following eight items are instrumental in my success to build my own network and enrich it.
Remember individuals who made time for you
Given the rather impersonal, digital world we operate in and the many hats we all have to wear, it’s a real privilege when someone gives you time to advocate for you, share information, or even just provide their company. Write down on a piece of paper those this week who made time for you and make a mental note to say thank you. This practice will take you far—I guarantee that your appreciation will plant a seed for a future encounter, conversation, or even professional recognition down the road, which could lead to any number of good things.
If nothing else, receiving a thank you message might brighten someone’s day. Knowing that could bring an even brighter smile to you.
Honor special days, holidays, events (and if possible send gifts)
It may seem silly to remind oneself, but make a point to call (not text) your friend on their birthday. Email them when they have a new position, internship, or job and whole-heartedly congratulate them! Recognize the sacred days of those that matter to you and send a card (handwritten is always more special).
Attend engagement parties, weddings, baby showers, and bring a meaningful treasure with you. Costly is not always better, rather aim to pick something unforgettable. The impression is going to last, not the price tag.
Make time for friends and acquaintances
Excuses can not substitute time lost with friends. Unfortunately, after a while consistent absence will sink in and become permanent. If nothing else, it’s important to remember that people may not remember what you said, but they do remember how you made them feel. If you are not able to let friends and acquaintances know that they are on your mind and cherished, how they will think of you the next time they are having a gathering, planning a trip, or organizing an event?
Carefully plan when and whom you ask favors from
The idea behind a favor is that you have earned enough trust and confidence to bestow as well as receive one. If you are not ready to give a favor, do not ask for one. Many of us consider credentials, academic performance, and strong reputation sufficient and acceptable exchanges for tokens of kindness, references, or reasons to simply be given the otherwise intangibles we desire.
This viewpoint can actually cause more harm than good, as these “acceptable exchanges” cloud vision and make us forget to repay the good deed or even just say thank you. I urge you not to put a rain check on your appreciation. Simply following-up and letting someone know their time and contribution is greatly valued.
Make introductions for others
While introductions may seem more of a business practice for established professionals, it is actually an under-utilized resource by students. You can quickly expand a network and connect existing acquaintances with others to form larger pools of like-minded people. Introductions do not only have to exist through LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook. You can facilitate your own through short, but thoughtful, emails.
If you are able to connect people you know with similar interests but different skills, indirectly you are providing an avenue for collaboration, innovation, maybe even a startup! This can also be a way to repay a favor, say thank you, and display your good taste in forming important contacts. To the person on the receiving end, they will know you were paying attention to their needs and interests and want to also help them out.
Be authentic with well-recognized integrity
It may sound cliché, yet there is no precise value you can place on a genuine, loyal friend, colleague, or team member. These individuals stand out from the crowd because their consistent, enviable principles ooze from their conversations, transactions, and deeds. Character does count. If you can be recognized as such a person, you will be amazed at the opportunities that will be flooding your inbox, knocking on your door, and greeting you effortlessly. Like in business, word can spread fast in college, especially when an individual has made a difference.
While this list of rules has been particularly helpful to me, there is so much more that can be said about establishing a strong network, preserving, and enhancing one. Ask your peers, friends, professors, family members their approach and try and dissect its relevance to you as you form your own opinions.
I recommend that you cater and personalize your interactions, study your habits and how they have succeeded or fallen short of your goals over the years, and most importantly find the right rhythm for you when it comes to interaction, conversation, and time commitment. Most important in all of this, be true to yourself. Enjoy and take pride in your exchanges with others.
Nicole Chacin will graduate in 2015 from George Washington University with a degree in business economics and public policy with a minor in vocal music. She plans on getting a JD/MBA after college and dreams of working in health policy and administration. She was a part of the first Forté College Leadership Conference and is the creative designer and co-founder of Chicago Boutique.