The college years are a time for finding a career, discovering what you are interested in, having new experiences, perhaps playing intermural or college sports, and building Social Capital. What do I mean by Social Capital? Social capital that elusive value in relationships. Because college is an excellent place to get to know a variety of people, including other students and faculty members, it is an excellent place to meet people that will support you and often point you to opportunities in your future.
Social Capital has always fascinated me. Even before I had a name for it, I knew that there was a quality that some people had in abundance, and other people, like me, did not. An explanation for my seeming lack of popularity as a kid: I moved a lot. I went to six different elementary schools between Kindergarten and 6th grade. I also moved a great deal as an adult, but by then, I understood how to build my social capital, even if I did not have a name for it.
When you spend time with someone, you build social capital with that person, and they build social capital with you. There is no precise way to measure social capital, it is either there or it is not. Social capital is a relationship currency that is intangible and not easily explained. Social Capital is developed and present in interpersonal relationships. Also, group members will have differing amounts of social capital, depending on the length of time in the group, whether or not they are likable, the resources that they can provide to the group, and their human capital.
Social Capital is Connection
A shared history is often a strong component of that connection. Because I was always the “new kid,” I did not have that shared history. So, I developed ways to build a connection with my new peers. Finding something in common, homophily, with another person is a great way to build that connection. Propinquity, the constant contact of working with or going to school with the same people, also helped.
Start with Propinquity and Homophily
Two elements drive social capital: propinquity and homophily. Propinquity or nearness is the more powerful predictor of developing social capital. Also known as proximity, propinquity means that we will like the people we come in contact with more than those we don’t have contact with. Schools, churches, apartment buildings, and other places where people gather together have propinquity and increase interaction and connection.
Homophily, the love of the same, is the tendency we have to associate and bond with others that are similar to us. These qualities include age, gender, race, and values. Age-homophily develops when people around the same age share the commonality of world events, life stages, and interests. Gender-homophily is an important element of networks because men tend to have all-male networks, while women are more likely to have all-female or mixed networks. Value-homophily includes a similarity of attitudes and stereotypes. These groups are not mutually exclusive, people tend to have connections in more than one homophilous group.
Once you establish a connection, it is important to build trust. The more experiences you have with someone, the easier it is to trust them. Colleges and Universities use social norms to their advantage through new student orientations and the traditions that are part of the school experience.
Add in Obligations and Expectations
Trust, information, and social norms are currencies of social capital. A group with an environment of trust is more efficient than one without trust. The more trust that is in a social structure or group, the more likely they are to expect another person in the group to honor an obligation.
Social capital provides social norms, a guide to the correct, “group-sanctioned” behavior or actions. Sports teams are a good example of social norms. Team members follow the rules of the sport, use special equipment, and wear specific clothing, often uniforms. Even the fans often buy into the norms, wearing clothes that match the team colors.
Social capital often provides access to information that might not be available in a less connected social relationship. This insider information can be helpful early in a career and finding a first job or later when changing jobs or even careers. Networks and mentoring are important pieces of Social Capital. It is important to be prepared for career opportunities through Human Capital with education and experience.
To be successful, Remember Human Capital
Social capital compliments human capital. Human capital provides the individual ability, and Social Capital delivers opportunity. They are tied together and can be impossible to separate. Social capital currency is enhanced through trust, access to information, goodwill, and relationships. They provide the benefits of social capital: career success, job search success, and reduced turnover. The benefits of enhanced human capital are also career success, job search success, and reduced turnover.
A person’s human capital comes from experience and education and is made up of intelligence, abilities, skills, and knowledge, Human capital includes abilities that an individual is born with and the abilities they develop during their lifetime. In the workplace, career experience and seniority in a position are also human capital.
How to build Social Capital
Many of us find ourselves in new social situations, and it can seem like we have lost all our Social Capital. When that happens, it is time to start over with your new group using the important elements of Social Capital:
- Propinquity – Look at the people around you. Your new classmates, coworkers, and neighbors are excellent to build new connections and friends.
- Homophily – Find a group in which you have something in common.
- Follow some social norms – buy a T-shirt in your new school colors, and dress in the same business casual style that everyone else does. If you are new to a place, do not tell everyone how much better it was where you came from.
- Use your Human Capital – join a group where you can use your talents or abilities.
And remember to always be nice and friendly. One of the most important benefits of Social Capital is making connections and, hopefully, new friends.
Elaina Cantrell Robinson, PhD
Assistant Professor of Business Communications and Marketing