Imagine walking into a room filled with opportunities: skill development courses, mentorship, and even job offers. Now, what if you had a personal guide to help you navigate this room, someone who could introduce you to the right people, point you to the job openings that align with your goals, and vouch for your skills and character? What if this person could help prospective employers focus on your skills, talents, and potential rather than your race, cultural identity, or life situation?
That’s the power of social capital. It’s like having a backstage pass to life’s possibilities, especially when it comes to job seeking.
For many, the term “social capital” might sound like corporate jargon or a buzzword in a self-help book. But in reality, it’s a lifeline, a catalyst for change, and often, the missing puzzle piece in the journey to meaningful employment. This is especially true for those in marginalized communities or facing significant life challenges. Your résumé can open doors, but it’s your social capital that allows you to walk through them with confidence.
Here’s what social capital is, why it can be an equitable game-changer for job seekers, and the actionable tips you can take to build yours.
What is Social Capital?
Social capital refers to the value we gain from personal and professional connections and relationships. It’s not just about who the people in your circles are, but the quality of those relationships and how they can be leveraged for mutual benefit.
Social capital starts with the networks of family, friends, classmates, and coworkers people naturally build over the course of their lives. Today, we often maintain these through social media. However, you shouldn’t limit yourself to incidental connections, but actively seek out new ones in the industry you want to join or succeed in. Job seekers need to learn strategies for intentionally building professional social capital — and you can do this by focusing on ways to add and engage with existing and new connections.
Why is Social Capital Important for Job Seekers?
We’ve all heard the expression “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” Once upon a time, having the right connections was achieved almost exclusively through considerable gender-based, racial, and socioeconomic privilege. Unfortunately, this reality is still being felt in many ways today. But with the advent of the internet, a market demand for skills often not taught in college, prestigious or otherwise, and a strong business trend toward skills-based hiring, it’s far more possible to build the right connections yourself — regardless of who you are.
Networking is Key
In today’s labor market, networking is more crucial than ever. As many as 80% of jobs are filled through networking, putting those without strong social and professional circles at a significant disadvantage. This is especially true for non-white Americans, for whom implicit bias is often an obstacle to receiving job offers compared to their white counterparts. The breadth and depth of your professional social capital (both how many connections you have and how strong your relationships with them are) can make a significant difference in job-seeking success.
How to Build Social Capital: Tips for Job Seekers
Here’s how you can build on your existing social capital and increase your chances of leveraging it to get the job you want.
- Start small. Don’t underestimate the value of your immediate network. Even friends and relatives in entry-level or support roles can offer valuable insights or acquaintances.
- Look for community programs. Seek out community career centers and related nonprofit organizations in your area. Programs aimed at workforce development are increasingly focusing on helping individuals from disadvantaged communities build professional social capital. Many of these offer networking events, mentorship, skills training, and career fairs that can help you expand your professional network. These can help you meet and build relationships with both peers and employers.
- Use social media wisely. Platforms like LinkedIn can be powerful tools for building professional relationships. You can use them to stay in touch with people you know and meet new people with similar career interests. However, it’s essential to move beyond just collecting connections to engaging with them meaningfully.
- Seek professional development. Courses, webinars, and workshops not only improve your skills, but also provide opportunities to meet peers and mentors in your industry. You can find these online and at career centers near you.
- Be genuine and giving. Authenticity goes a long way in building lasting relationships. Offer your help to others in your network without expecting anything in return, and you’ll find that people are more likely to help you when you need it.
Social capital is an invaluable asset in the job-seeking process. It offers a pathway to equitable opportunities that might otherwise remain inaccessible. For those in underinvested communities or facing significant life challenges, building social capital can be a game-changer, leveling the playing field and opening doors to meaningful work and economic advancement.
Build Your Social Capital — and Job Skills — With JobTrain
You can get the help you need with building social capital as you seek out new job opportunities — and training in a variety of digital and technical skills as well. JobTrain’s recruitment events connect employers with job seekers of all experience levels. Its free Google Apps and Social Media class can help you expand your professional network, and its supportive services can help remove “life” obstacles to a successful job search.
JobTrain is an accredited educational and training institution that transforms lives and communities in Silicon Valley. We help the Valley’s most in need reclaim their lives from poverty and unemployment by preparing them for successful, sustainable careers in high-demand and emerging fields. Contact us today!