For those of us Odyssey readers that are going through the college application process, applying for college, internships, and the seemingly "unattainable" dream job, I have a simple piece of advice that, for once, I actually follow through with myself instead of just suggesting to other people (shocker, I know).
USE YOUR CONNECTIONS.
Granted, me telling you to tap on the shoulders of that someone somebody knows, as everybody knows someone who knows someone, could make you feel uncomfortable. Most of the time, people feel awkward asking for less demanding or hefty favors like a ride home or borrowing a pencil. Some people really just value their autonomy and hate "relying" on anyone for anything, whether it's help, money, time, favors, etc. Asking for a bit of a push or leverage at the hands of another individual can be viewed as an attack on one's pride(not to be confused with hubris, in this case), or a sign of being unable to hold one's own.
In high school and early on in college, I used to see things like asking a friend who was a receptionist at a place I wanted to work if they had an open spot for me, my family members who had contacts at companies I was interested in if they could "put a word in" on my behalf, or even just asking my friends to hook me up with a good math tutor as shameful. I thought that asking if anybody could "pull some strings" for me was a way of getting one over on other people, allowing myself to be lazy, or even showing that I was incapable of attaining what I wanted in my own right. I was stubborn and only wanted to do things of my own accord.
Later on in my college career, I realized what the secret to using your connection is, and it's something that everyone tells you all the time, but not necessarily in relation to your business and career networking: working hard.
Most people who work their connections are hyper- conscious of whether or not they "make the cut" in terms of the favors they are asking of others. The way to avoid feeling inferior to whatever position or opportunity you are presented, thanks to someone else as a resource, is by making yourself "worthy" on your own time, even before you ask.
If there is a goal you want to pursue, and you know what it is and you dedicate all your time and energy to beefing up your resume, your attitude, your work ethic, to fit the bill of whatever role you so badly want to take on, when that "string pulling" makes good and someone who may not have come across your name otherwise finds you in their field of view, you won't have to worry about whether or not you're "only there thanks to the hook up from _____." If your experiences, your resume, and your demeanor are exactly what people are looking for, then help from a friend to reach that somewhat elusive status is only helping to support and solidify all the hard work you've already done on your own, for yourself.
You don't want for your friend or family member to stick their neck out in your favor, only to embarrass them by having your only virtue be that you are "their cousin," or "their friend." Give the people who are willing to help you a reason to have faith and confidence in your abilities by busting your butt for your own good before anyone else's.
Before being gutsy enough to approach those who I knew could help me with my dreams and desires, I thought I wasn't good enough a candidate for the help. However, after discovering what motivates me and putting my nose to the grindstone, I became more willing to say
"Here- this is who I am, this is what I can do, this is how I am a unique asset, is there any way you can help me?"
Working your contacts is first about hard work, and secondly about graciousness. It's important to create a relationship with the "high- profile" people who help you beyond asking for their services. Send them thank you cards and follow up e- mails, even give them a ring. If the situation doesn't work out as you planned, which will still happen, connections or no connections, continue to create a good line of communication. Keep your contacts updated on what you're doing next or instead. That way, you both show appreciation for the time they did dedicate to helping you, and if another opportunity arises somewhere down the line where you could be needed, you'll be the first person to come to mind thanks to your consideration of others. Courtesy compliments hard work in beneficial ways, as does confidence in yourself.
It could be odd at first and you may feel displaced, but some things I regret not doing in high school were:
1. Insisting on doing things the hard way when people wanted to offer me help.
2. Not using my knowledge to its fullest potential in order to make myself valuable to future jobs, schools, whatever.
3. Not having the confidence in myself and my skill set to approach any connections I had.
4. Not using any of my contacts in general.
Luckily I caught myself before it was too late to let myself shine through to others. It's not about begging for favors or "sliding through the cracks" and bypassing more qualified others who don't "know someone." Instead, using your connections is about graciously offsetting all the great things you already have going for yourself. Someone being willing to help you out means that they recognize the effort you've been putting in and think you're worth the special treatment. The best way to use connections is by being an indispensable whatever you aim to be.