Most of the people we know have amazing networks.

Your own network consists of relatives, friends from childhood, friends from school, and work colleagues. Then there are those from your faith-based organization, your volunteer work, and your interest groups. You know a lot of people. We all do.

But have you ever thought of this group from a strategic standpoint? And I don’t mean strategic only from your perspective. You can be a strategic connection for others, too. Members of your network can help you connect to a job. But you too can be a connector for people.

I work in higher education. I’m one of the most connected people I know. When I think about how I know people and where they are, I am astounded as to the breadth and depth of my network. Some of it is the result of living in four states, so I know people in various communities. But other connections have been made just because I go up to people at meetings and say, “I’m Lynne Richardson. I don’t believe I know you.” And my network grows.

Let me let you in on a little secret. You have an amazing network, too. Perhaps you don’t think of your connections as your network.

Most of the students I interact with will look for a job at some point. Every year, I have a few who visit with me to talk about their job search. After we determine what type of work they are looking for, I ask about who they know that could help them. They give me the deer-in-the-headlights look. Then I begin to question them about different parts of their lives.

Several years ago, a non-business major visited me. She wanted to be a college basketball coach one day. So I asked who she knew that knew college coaches. She immediately named her college head coach.

“Yes, and who else?,” I responded.

That deer-in-the-headlights look crossed her face. Then I asked about her high school coach. Did that coach know any college coaches? What about travel ball? Did her travel coach know any college coaches? Had she ever met any coaches at camps? Did the other coaches in her athletic conference know her, at least as a player? Once we had a list of her strategic network, I suggested she let each of them know of her dream to be a college coach. Years later, she is now an assistant college coach.

But here’s the other thing: Her connections were delighted to help her. People like assisting others when they can. I bet you feel the same way.

I’m always surprised that every business major at my school doesn’t connect with me. I may not know someone specifically in their area of interest, but I probably know someone who is, and I love to help make those connections happen.

A job search is just one way your network can help you. What if you need to know how to do something? I work with a lot of smart people who generally are delighted to be resources to folks in business who need to work through problems or learn how to do something new.

Or maybe you like to travel. Connecting with other road warriors can provide insider information not always easily found in books or blogs.

So sit down and figure out how you can help those in your network. At some point, those folks might be a great resource for you, too. Think about them strategically. If you need to expand your network, do it.

All it takes is: “I don’t believe I know you. My name is …”

Lynne Richardson is the dean of the College of Business at the University of Mary Washington.

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