In their book So What Are You Going to do with That? Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius talk about using people as sources for research just as you have been trained to do with books as a graduate student. This series of activities is designed to help you enact that shift of perspective by looking closely at the people in your life. By thinking about how they form the social networks that you currently participate in, what are some of the different ways that they can help you make connections?
For the first part of this activity, set up a quiet space for yourself to write. Get a timer that you will set for 5 minutes. I prefer to do this activity with a pencil and paper, because somehow writing by hand helps take my brain back to the past, but if you prefer to type, then do so. Whatever is most conducive to free-thinking for you. Beginning your timer, make a list of all of the people who you have known over the course of your entire life. Try to just keep writing for the entire 5 minutes, don’t judge what you are listing, if you can’t remember a name, just say “that guy who sold me my car” and keep on going. The idea here is to free up your conscious thinking and let your brain do what it does best: free-associate and forge connections.
When the timer stops, take a look at the list you just created.
Are there any names here that surprise you? People who you had long since forgotten? What was your connection to them? What do you think made them appear here on this list?
Do you start to see any patterns here in terms of what activities you were engaged in that brought these people into your life? Was it participation in sports, religious organizations, school, work? For example, are these people that you traveled with or met while traveling, and if so, does this suggest to you anything about how you orient to or value traveling? As you look at your list to see what categories and groups it suggests, break those out into the natural groups or networks that they fall into by drawing boxes around those who clump together and drawing lines to connect (thinking maybe about how you met these people, how you keep track of these people, when you will next see them, etc.).
Now start to think about how these people are connected (to each other and to you)? Be reflective about contexts that seem most conducive to making deep connections for you. These can be illuminating not only for thinking about how best to approach your networking, but also in learning about your values. For example, if many of the people on your list are members of your family / are people that you me through your family, perhaps this can give you some insight to a major motivating factor for you. You may have an extended family who are well-placed to make connections for you, but you may also want to recognize that family are a priority as you make important life decisions like where you might be willing to move for a job. The information contained in your list is most illuminating when you can discuss with a group and see how your group is organized differently from theirs.
Bringing your past into your present
Many of these people who you have listed will be from organizations that you used to belong to, or in cities where you used to live. Think for a moment how you connect to them in the present. Events that you attend (reunions, professional conferences, weddings, etc.), trips that you take. Try to think about more ways of bringing this past into your present job search. Are there alumni groups or listservs that you could join, could you use LinkedIn? (more on LinkedIn in the next activity).
A focus on the present:
In the Cross Cultural Communication course that I teach, we do an activity which has students think about the identities that they currently have by thinking about the groups that they currently belong to. Google+ has capitalized on this imagery, so you can maybe recruit that to help stimulate your thinking. Choose seven groups that you are currently a part of. When we do this in class, we draw the circles, and you can draw from your training in semantics to go a step further if you like to draw them in ways that capture how they intersect and overlap.
Looking at your circles, and thinking about where you would like to be headed professionally, brainstorm about who you are currently connected to who might be able to help you make the next step. Where do these connections lead?
Take a minute to pay it forward
As ever, we want you to be considering ways to pay it forward. Are there people in your network who could really benefit from a connection that you might be able to make for them? If so, take a minute to make this happen! The right conversation at the right time could make all the difference to one of your fellow jobseekers!
Moving into the future
Reflecting back on the “Know Thyself” exercises that you have been doing, and looking at these groups, ask yourself whether the groups you are currently engaged with speak to your interests and values. If so, how can you continue to deepen your engagement with these communities? If there is something missing, what activities could you look for to fill these gaps? Jobsearching aside, you will be a happier person if your days are spent doing things that you love to do!