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bigfileUSCgirlWhen I was in high school, I was an intense, focused straight-A student, a typical INTJ (in Meyers-Briggs lingo) with a small, homogeneous group of close friends. With my introverted temperament and singular goal orientation, I was not one for glad-handing with everyone in my 750-student high school class. I remember a classmate, my polar opposite, a perky young lady named Denise, who was active in student council and cheerleading; she earned good grades but was no egghead. Seared in my memory (to this day) was her personal rallying cry: “I ‘dig’ people.”

handshakekidsI gradually learned to branch out beyond my singular focus comfort zone during business school and my corporate career, and I now appreciate the value of networking as an entrepreneur whose consulting business depends on word-of-mouth as well as social media connections. But being one of Susan Cain‘s Quiet introverts, networking never came naturally to me. Recently, I came across the concept of the strength of weak ties formulated by sociologist Mark Granovetter and described in user-friendly language for twenty-somethings by Meg Jay in her tour-de-force, The Defining DecadeWhy Your Twenties Matter–and How to Make the Most of Them Now. So how can college students and recent grads find the balance between nerdy, focused accomplishment and spreading themselves thin by glad handing? Is there any hope for achievers who don’t ‘dig’ people?

strengthofweakties-hires-2The strength of weak ties is a simple concept, despite Mark Granovetter’s complex diagrams. Think of six degrees of Kevin Bacon, or LinkedIn degrees of connection. The strength of weak ties is well explained by The Collaborative Organization author Jacob Morgan in a recent Forbes article: “It’s a bit counter-intuitive but… it is not the strong ties that can be the most beneficial, in fact, weak ties (acquaintances or people that you might not know that well) can be far more valuable… Granovetter analogizes weak ties to being bridges which allow us to disseminate and get access to information that we might not otherwise have access to.” I invite you to watch his instructive video: THE IMPORTANCE OF WEAK TIES.

youngmanspeakerBut as a college student, doesn’t it take time and effort to develop weak ties? If you are trying to get a 4.0 GPA, do you really have the “band width” to also campaign for student council, become the student representative on the guest speakers committee, volunteer for community outreach programs, or participate in intramural sports, all so that you can build casual contacts who may potentially connect you someday to an internship, entrepreneurial project, or job (no guarantees)? Do you really need to reach outside your homogenous 18-22 college clique or “urban tribe” to connect with “real world” adults that you meet through an internship or research, with whom you have nothing in common in terms of life stage (i.e., they might own a house or have children)? What if you invest all your time networking, at the expense of your grades, and then find yourself at a GPA disadvantage when a prospective employer wants to see your transcript or you want to apply to law school?

Computer screen and hand with cardThe answer is slightly different for every individual, varying by the situation. For an INTJ like myself, it takes tremendous energy to venture outside my comfort zone with people I don’t know; I go into stimulation overload quickly and must seek restoration through solitude. The idea of Keith Farrazzi‘s Never Eat Alone freaks me out. So I don’t set unrealistic goals for in-person networking. I once joined a professional networking breakfast group with an outgoing friend who was already a member; I forced myself to stay for only one year, but I did make valuable contacts. I have discovered that a reserved person like myself is better at online networking, systematically creating LinkedIn profiles and joining online alumni and industry groups. I channel my goal-oriented intensity into such activities, building my website SEO and my business. College students and recent grads can easily do these things.

handshakefriendsAward-winning Wharton professor Adam Grant and best-selling business author Dan Pink remind us that most people are not extreme extraverts or introverts, but somewhere in the middle. They recommend “getting in touch with one’s inner ambivert,” recognizing that we can use extraverted or introverted approaches to success, depending on the situation. So maybe it is simply a matter of selecting the right tool for the right task, balancing your efforts between exploring public situations and privately focusing on goals, finding equilibrium between the horizontal and the vertical. Play to your strengths, to be sure, but find comfortable, user-friendly ways to create the appropriate balance for you.

So… If you are an ENFJ (“Socializer”), ENFP (“Performer”) or ENTJ (“Leader”), go ahead and run for class president, but push yourself to study to systematically deliver on academic goals as well. If you are an ISFJ (“Stabilizer”), INFP (“Artist”), or INTJ (“Visionary”), get your A’s, craft your private product, meet your internal goals, but also find comfortable ways to reach out to others. Join LinkedIn, join one student organization (with a friend), force yourself to attend a Career Services workshop, participate in a campus volunteer day, or do an informational interview with a family friend. You will find that you actually can build valuable connections, even if you don’t “dig” people.

Related Posts: 15 Steps to Launching Your Career While in College, What Is Informational Interviewing?, Your College’s Career Center.

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