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Relationship building is an essential part of a student’s journey. During undergrad, LSA students have unprecedented access to a bevy of resources that can offer support and can potentially alter the trajectory of their professional careers. While some of these resources are tangible tools and learning materials, one of the most prominent resources that students have access to is often overlooked: people.
We spoke with Arielle Julie, a design recruiter at Pinterest, about what social capital is, the value of initiating and maintaining professional relationships, and discussed some common misconceptions about the act of networking.
What is social capital?
From student peers to alums to experienced professionals, building authentic relationships through networking with the people around you is a key component to building your social capital.
Based on her personal experience, Arielle defines social capital in a no-nonsense way.
“It’s the value and worth of your network. The same way your house has equity or wealth, so does your network,” she says.
Social capital is a sociological concept that refers to the intangible, invisible resources and assets that emerge from our social relationships. This is a very important concept for students to explore, as a rich social capital can lead to jobs, internships, and mentorship opportunities.
Why is it important?
When beginning your professional career, leveraging your social capital is key. There is truth in the phrase: “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
Arielle says, “Once you get to a point in your third or fourth year of college, you’re competing with everyone who’s graduating. You will quickly realize that there’s a lot of value in having a network and having spoken to industry professionals who you can tap for jobs or internships.”
A growing social capital can lead to a proverbial piggy bank of useful information, innovative ideas, and future opportunities. It’s especially essential that students prioritize building connections now.
“After college, it’s unlikely that students will ever have the proximity or access to people as resources at this scale ever again,” Arielle affirms.
“It’s unlikely that students will ever have the proximity or access to people as resources at this scale ever again.”
It’s important to note that there are many misconceptions when it comes to networking and building social capital. Arielle says that she has heard students describe it as “forced”, making them feel like an overly assertive salesman. However, she believes there’s a stigma around networking because “those students haven’t needed anything yet.” In fact, Arielle says many industry professionals are eager to help students identify opportunities.
“Some people interpret social capital as social climbing or being overly opportunistic, but it’s really just the value of the people you know, who they know, and who you have access to,” says Arielle. The general idea is that investing in the success of others is essential to our own success.
We also spoke with Hub Coach Kim Truong about her experience building social capital. During her own U-M undergrad experience, she, like many students, felt uncomfortable with the idea of using people as resources. However, she discovered the tried-and-tested truth in her own way.
“Approach expanding your social capital from a place of humility and wanting to learn about people’s experiences, pathways and stories,” Kim advises.
Ergo, there are reasons to believe in building relationships into resources. Along with having an expanded network and potential job opportunities, research shows that individuals with higher levels of social capital also report being happier, healthier, and have increased levels of trust in their communities as a result of positive relationships.
How to build your social capital
Although networking can come easier for some more than others, investing in your social capital doesn’t have to be scary or a chore. As an LSA undergrad, Arielle took the first step in growing her network by surrounding herself with people she liked and those who had similar career interests. She also explained that identifying your goals before jumping into networking is key – what are you looking to gain from this experience? Arielle is a strong proponent of attending those crucial “after-hours'' events. As a student, this allowed her to build relationships with professors and alums via informational interviews.
“Put yourself out there, engage and follow up,” says Arielle. “Curiosity is the biggest tool you can use.”
Positioning yourself as an eager and intentional person will show people in your network that you have a genuine interest in their field of study or professional industry, strengthening your relationships. Arielle says that for introverted people in particular, “approaching networking with curiosity and thoughtful questions is much easier than holding a conversation or being the entertainment at a dinner party.”
“Curiosity is the biggest tool you can use.”
During her undergraduate years, Arielle had great success in networking and identifying opportunities because of her memorable and meaningful elevator pitch and her innate ability to form connections. After connecting with an advertising pro at an Alum Q&A Session, she initiated an informational interview that landed her an internship and her first post-college position at an advertising agency.
Hub Coach Kim agrees that while curiosity is pertinent in building relationships, it’s important to recognize that you don’t have all the answers and support is always beneficial. During her years at U-M, Kim was intentional about prioritizing her relationships among friends, colleagues, peers and professors in her classes and during office hours.
“Getting to know classmates and instructors is a great first step,” Kim says. “Asking for help and being real about your struggles is a great way to practice learning how to tell your story, advocating for yourself, and learning from others.”
Keeping in touch with peers, attending networking events and reaching out to old acquaintances are all useful strategies in building your social capital. Additionally, there’s significant value in forming connections with diverse groups of people. Diversity offers different perspectives which can, in turn, create access to new information and opportunities.
There are many routes you can take to expand your professional network, especially with the help of the Opportunity Hub. For a step-by-step guide on all aspects of networking, visit the Hub’s Canvas page. For general questions related to social capital and networking guidance, chat with a Hub Coach.
Are you a believer yet? To LSA students who remain hesitant about reaching out to alums, Arielle has an important insight to share:
“The Michigan alum network is irrationally passionate about engaging and talking to current U-M students. When you graduate and whatever city you end up in: join the local alum network.”
She recounts her experience moving to San Diego straight after graduation for that advertising agency job.
“I went to an alum event at a football game, and all of the alums were much older, like tens of years older. But that meant they were in positions of power. There was this guy there that was asking, ‘Who needs a job?’ It always stuck out to me because I didn't need a job at the time, but I realized at that moment that this was the amazing benefit of going to a school like U-M: you get this built-in network once you come out of school that you simply have to activate.”
Arielle concludes with big advice: “Go to the events. The easiest thing you could do is go watch a game with the alum network, and then engage with those alums because they're likely in positions where they can help you either through mentoring or getting you interviews, or even just offering you a job.”
To discover the LSA alums in your area and to start building authentic connections, join the college’s online mentoring and networking platform, LSA Connect.