Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Grads Find Building New Ties Daunting - but NET can help

Ultimately, for a successful work life and a satisfying personal life most new grads will need to develop new social networks in what will -- at first -- prove to be unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations.

The first time you meet anyone, it's pretty unrealistic to expect that he or she will connect you to a job or become your best friend. And people would rather deal with their friends than with strangers. But all friends were strangers at some point; it's just a matter of time, manners, and occasions to bring a relationship about. We all have some interests -- sculpture or drag-racing or private equity or tennis -- and enthusiasts usually converge somewhere on a routine basis.

It's not always easy to do. For people who, until now, had networks created for them, from the classroom to the dorm room, entering the wide world beyond school cliques can feel like being dropped into a shark tank, or an abyss.

"People our age are at a disadvantage," says Annabel Mangold, 26 years old, a San Francisco Bay area native who has been living in Anchorage, Alaska, for the last year. "We're like toddlers, trying to figure out who we want around us."

It isn't just moving to a strange place that can produce feelings of loneliness or social angst. It can also be tough returning home.

"It's like going to another city than the one you left. You're starting over," says Brian Kirkvold, a 28-year-old business development associate in Minneapolis.

After he graduated from Kenyon College, he returned to his hometown. "I had no college friends around, my old friends had gone away or were still in college somewhere, and I had no high school friends ... It was really frustrating," he says.

Mr. Kirkvold says he first immersed himself in his job, working 60 to 70 hours a week for a couple of years at the expense of making friends. Craving a social life, he scaled back to 50 hours a week and "slowly, but surely, started to meet a couple of people here and there."

Over time, the socializing came easier to him.

"It was much more fun to get out and enjoy life, rather than spending every day doing exactly the same thing," he says.

These days, Mr. Kirkvold meets new people training for marathons and triathlons, waterskiing, and in his part-time MBA classes at the University of Minnesota. "My circle of friends is not just made up of people my age," he says, "and they have so many different perspectives."

Mr. Kirkvold believes it's important to constantly expand your circle of friends and colleagues and pursue interests outside of work. "If work becomes the primary focal point, what happens when the job doesn't work out? You could find yourself in a precarious position of no job, no contacts, and no prospects."

Christine McKay, a senior career adviser at Harvard Business School, suggests the best way to start out in a new place or a new field is to tell everyone you know what you're about to embark on. "Most of us have a connection somewhere, within a geography or within an industry. Let everyone know what you will be doing -- professors, friends, parents' friends, family -- and ask them for help. People love to help other people be successful."

The next step is to reach out to people you don't know. That means getting involved in industry organizations, joining alumni groups or participating in organized activities like you'd find at a knitting or rowing club -- things you do to get some face-to-face contact going. The new people you meet might become friends, mentors or heroes. "Self-motivation is hard, and we tend to require external influences to motivate us," says Ms. McKay, 40. "That strong external motivation is what separates really successful people from others."

This is a summary of a larger article from the CareerJournal.

Reach out to the NET and get some face-to-face contact at our upcoming events.

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