Things I Wish I Learned in College: Building Effective Networks

This post is the second in a series written by guest author, Jonathan Baker, CPA, CMA, CIA. Jonathan is currently working in public accounting with an assurance focus at McGladrey LLP where he started his career after graduating from the Professional Program in Accounting at Texas A&M University with an MS in Finance and BBA in Accounting in 2010.

College kids mostly believe that life will align and the job they want will come. Most times it does, but the main issue with this method is we become short-term thinkers. In business this is dangerous, multiple businesses continue to think short-term based on ridiculous incentive packages that unfortunately can sometimes reinforce this type of behavior. The first thing a college kid does when he steps on campus is satisfies the urge to find friends. Community living is how we are designed. We are designed to be interacting, pushing, giving, receiving community livers. There is an incredible amount of research on the knowledge powerhouse creations that come about from just the proximity of major businesses of the same type being near each other. Research moves forward at a quicker pace when the community is centric around the same topics and ideas. It is this centrality actually drives things.

Think about this example of me and a friend. One of us works at a large network provider and the other works at a medium size network systems consulting firm. When we go to lunch we will talk about family, life, faith, politics and of course work. Over time my buddy and I become closer and we continue to share our thoughts, passions, abilities and frustrations and eventually boom! A discovery or major breakthrough occurs and you have a fortune 50 company within 15 years. The most obvious pockets of this type of knowledge sharing are evident in the US hub areas of the Silicon Valley in northern California and the Research Triangle in the heart of North Carolina. Both areas are filled by the world’s brightest with their proximities to world class institutions both private and public tend to do a pretty good job of enthusing those there to stay.

This collaborative illustration is meant to help illustrate the vitality of community and what it can produce. In college I loved to be independent. On the surface I am an extrovert, but on the inside I truly am introverted and love to have a big challenging project to run with making it my own. I exploited the freedom of college by enhancing my knowledge, improving my grades and learning a ton about my chosen fields. There is a quote out there that helps, “People will never care how much you know until they know how much you care”.

I learned I held a considerable amount of knowledge that, at first, I would never share. I struggled through a lot of the time because I always was the first to embark on the projects in my groups of 60-70 in my cohorts/classes. Of course, my buddies would call me for advice when they found those same obstacles arose and I would not help. I point blank felt that if I had to struggle it was not fair for others not to and nor would it be fair for me to strip them of this learning experience. I had a strong feeling about this but by the time grad school came around I understood it did not have to be so hard. I found my friends, who hung out on weekends; and I found my colleagues, other top notch students who took care of their stuff promptly and with minimal errors in their chosen fields. My grad year, we were able to choose project teams and just absolutely wrecked shop. I handled the financial modeling and accounting presentation pieces and we had others covering other facets such as marketing, economics, management, Information systems and other parts of accounting. I was good in my field, and not as good in others. We began to share knowledge and found that it would be even better to be near each other while working, but to do our own pieces. Immediately my work began to encompass many more facets of business than the money centrics. This made me realize something. I discovered that I was meant to be involved in social circles where I give in some places and receive in others. This is how it is meant to be.

This was April of my last year of grad school and graduation commenced in May. What I am here to do is help get you to the place I was not. Network is the new buzz word and everyone is jumping on its wagon. What I have learned through the real world is the network of 250 peers I had through my professional program know who I am but do not know me. Having people who truly know you is what makes an effective network. Think about it, your name is on the line anytime you vouch for someone. If you vouch for everyone, including those you do not know as well, odds are some bad apples are going to slip through and your name/reputability will fall.

Find the balance between meeting enough people for the proper amounts of exposure and investing enough into those people to get to know them and they you. Surround yourself with like-minded and unlike-minded people. Learn from them, teach them and be in a place where you can get better by them. If there is something you find interesting and want to know more, go hang around the college’s campus or building depending on how your university is set up. Just being around the field and those within it is bound to get your interests either further sparked or extinguished. Life really is about asking and answering questions. Be positive about it and do not be afraid of rejection. Building an effective diverse network of peers, professors and outside sources can provide a true network that can be titled, ‘the foundation of a good career’. When you approach the end of college, every student just wants to find that job. You always should be thinking down the road and aiming for the job you really want. When your path stops aligning with your goal, you readjust and take a new role that will straighten the path. This is where an effective and collaborative network can help you explore what is out there and how to get there.

My book recommendation:  Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi