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Why Strategic Relationships Matter, and Why You’re Never too Young to Start Building Them

A letter to my college-aged kid sister and every other young person fearing life after graduation

We are often told that our network equates to our net worth. However, the part that most people leave out is that our network can also equate to our company’s net worth. In a time when the job market has never been more competitive, most employers are no longer impressed by the academic institution highlighted on your resume. They’ve become accustomed to seeing the Ivy League affiliations, internships (where they know you mainly made coffee) and the buzz-word laced profiles on LinkedIn. What matters to them now are two simple things: 1) Who do you know that they know and 2) Who do you know that they don’t know.

Surround Yourself with the Right People

Let’s be honest, as a recent graduate you’re probably thinking …but I don’t know anybody. Wrong!

The thing that I wish someone told me when I was young, is that we all start this rat race at the same starting line. Sure, some of your friends have trust funds and others maxed out credit cards, but the beauty lies in the fact that despite starting in the same place, these same people just might end up in some pretty awesome places down the road. If I had a nickel for every friend that said they were going to grow up to be something and actually grew up to become that very thing…I’d probably have a nickel. Life after college is a winding road where each position you enter tells you more about what you don’t want to do rather than what you want to do.

It’s OK not to have it figured it out yet, but while you do…NETWORK LIKE HECK. Maintain relationships. Follow-up. Check-in on people just to say hi. A wise mentor once said in your first job pay attention to the popular kids and the nerds. Not the “oh they might be homecoming king or queen” way but in a strategic they might be a future referral way. Let’s face it. The popular kids at work will always rise quickly in their careers, because work is hard and having a work life balance is even harder. People, no matter their career level will always want to be around the person that they can grab a drink with after work. Please note I’m not referring to the person that’s so much fun that most days you’re not sure whether or not they showed up to work drunk. Avoid those people. Avoid them at all cost. They are too fun and might cost you your job instead of helping you find another one. Ok, now back to what I was saying. Yes, the nerds. In the age of tech and health do not sleep on these people. I’m telling you now, there are several people in life who slept on Mark Zuckerburg and I guarantee you they are kicking themselves everyday. Everyone has potential, even if you can’t see it yet so maintain those relationships and stay in touch. Thanks to the age of social media, you have all the tools needed to do so at your fingertips.

Seize Every Opportunity to Showcase and Grow Your Network

Interviews are no longer centered around telling a potential employer about your greatest character flaw being your inability to delegate because your work ethic has turned you into a perfectionist and overachiever. Been there, done that, and I guarantee for most of you it’s no longer working. That interview is your opportunity to differentiate yourself from all the people whose resumes look just like yours. Highlight the relationships that you can’t sell on paper. The interactions you had with senior level people at that internship. Name drop a friend’s dad who that CEO plays golf with. No matter what stage you are in your career, the deeper your Rolodex the more valuable you are to your company. You just need to know how to play the game.

For those whose internships made them realize that they definitely don’t want to go into a career in their major of study….keep hope alive. Again, its ok not to have it figured out. Heck, most of us adults are still trying to figure out. As a matter of fact, I bet you even Beyonce’(Bey) is still trying to figure it out because she definitely said she was going to retire at 30. However, since we all can’t be Bey, focus on the communities and organizations that are accessible to you now. Attend conferences and events with the goal of leaving with a certain number of business cards and more importantly follow-up. Every time you step out the door it’s an opportunity for you to build your brand and and your network

The world is your oyster so get a bucket and start shucking!

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