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Friday, February 23, 2024

Commentary: Consider community building as an alternative to networking

The importance of making meaningful connections, not just seeking out opportunities from others

 

By RUMA POUDELL — arts@theaggie.org

 

Networking and building communities are important parts of interacting with the world, establishing a support system and forming fruitful connections. As college students, we’re in a unique environment with the opportunity to engage in these activities on a daily basis. While the two are similar, prioritizing community building may be beneficial — here’s why.

Networking is a widespread concept. On any given day, there may be numerous networking events held for the sole purpose of getting together and meeting new people in a field or activity. Networking typically includes exchanging LinkedIn profiles and phone numbers and seeking out opportunities from one another. 

Community building parallels networking, but the approach is slightly different. While the ultimate goal of community building is also to seek out opportunities, it’s not done with an approach that is so direct and straightforward.

Networking is typically done with the intention to extract opportunities from one another, whereas community building first establishes a genuine connection and reaps additional benefits later. 

If you’ve never gone to networking events before, they can be kind of awkward. Everyone there knows that other attendees are also looking to get a job, internship or even a mentorship. Personally, having that in mind convolutes the process of getting to know someone for me, because right off the bat you are coming in with an extremely formal attitude.

Some questions you might find yourself being asked at a networking event include, “What are your past work experiences? What do you hope to accomplish in the future? What are you currently working on as a passion project?”
Don’t get me wrong, you can definitely form relationships from these types of interactions. But it can also feel awkward and sometimes even forced. 

When I think of community building, however, I think of approaching people with a sense of curiosity about their character as a whole, not just their professional life. Community building can also happen anywhere — not just at specified events. It’s like making friends and turning those friendships into partnerships of support to eventually form a complex support system. 

Imagine meeting someone at a coffee shop, deciding to have a conversation and, as you start talking, learning more about this person’s life. Whether or not you get something out of it in terms of job opportunities, you have potentially formed a new friendship or connection. That person offers an opportunity to learn and grow. 

Another aspect of community building that’s different from networking is the maintenance these relationships require. In community building, you maintain contact every so often. You keep in touch and update each other on your journeys. You can even connect each other to more friends and opportunities as well.

Relationships formed through community building require more effort. I think the perfect example of this is my connection with my mentor. I met him through applying for an internship, asking questions, hopping on a phone call and simply talking about things I was curious about, as he was someone who was achieving the things I wanted to as well. 

Since then, I’ve changed career trajectory and we no longer share the same ambitions — yet we still stay in contact. We update each other on life and I’ve met additional friends and mentors through this one contact who have been of immense help. This is only one example of how focusing on community building rather than networking helps foster genuine connections rather than mere Linkedin followers.

 

Written by: Ruma Poudell — arts@theaggie.org