By Brian Fairbanks
Social capital is about more than being popular. To build social capital, a person connects to other professionals in their field of interest and develops social ties. This can be through a mutual exchange of information and opportunities. It can also be through career advice, mentoring, or coaching in career development.
Social capital can be built through one-on-one interactions, social relationships, and even group activities. The latter might involve a shared experience, such as going out for a happy hour or attending a company event. It can also be an individual pursuit, like taking a career development course.
Learning how to build social capital can be difficult for many people, particularly introverted or younger people who haven’t been in the working world very long. There are, however, some simple ways to build various types of social capital that will encourage career growth down the road.
Encyclopedia Britannica defines social capital as the professional or personal relationships people develop to "secure benefits and invent solutions to problems through membership in [these] social networks."
Social capital can be categorized in three ways, according to Social Capital Research:
If you have professional social capital with someone, you may be able to ask them to "put in a good word" for you with their employer. If you’re traveling to a foreign country and you have social capital with someone who lives there, they may provide you with a personalized list of hotel and restaurant recommendations. Or if you have an even higher level of social capital, or "cache" with that person, they may agree to play tour guide for you.
With enough social capital, you might be able to:
Not all relationships with fellow workers offer the same value. "A work organization with hierarchical relationships contains status differences that facilitate or constrain access to others," according to the Career Research blog. "A senior executive is likely to have more immediate access to the expertise of individuals throughout the company than a floor manager. The status provides authority, which is social capital that has value."
In addition, individuals from underrepresented communities and first-generation graduates are more likely to have limited social capital as it relates to providing access to career development opportunities.
Social capital can really benefit overall career development. However, like any other advantage, it’s only useful if you know how to leverage it. The Career Institute™ at University of Phoenix (UOPX) explores these types of broad, persistent and systemic barriers to career advancement to find research-based solutions.
Saray Lopez, the director of student diversity and inclusion at UOPX, suggests several easy ways to build social capital:
Are you interested in launching a new career, enhancing your current one, or just improving your professional life in general? Building social capital isn’t the only way to achieve your goals. Career coaching may offer real benefits as well. (Bonus: University of Phoenix offers Career Services for Life® for current students and graduates of our degree programs.)
Whether you call it friendships, relationships, or networking, connecting with other people in your field offers many benefits. However, to reap its rewards, you simply have to be curious, be helpful — and be yourself.
Ready to reach out? Learn how to optimize your LinkedIn profile first.
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