• Dr. Thom

Getting Names: Three steps to exploring majors while building a lifelong network

Updated: Jul 30


Photo by Vlad Hilitanu on Unsplash

I have tried to explain to my sons what it was like to grow up in the generation that was introduced to the internet. They mostly end up making fun of me, hunching their backs and speaking in a straining voice something that starts with, “In my day . . . “


But I don’t let this chicanery stop me from playing along:


In my day the internet . . .

  • was something you went to, like physically. In college there were computer terminals where green and black monitors allowed you to check the 1 email message you might have received that week.

  • was mostly text based. You had to remember keyboard shortcuts to navigate anywhere. You felt like a computer genius if you could figure out how to navigate a single website.

  • featured the weirdest commercials.

There is no doubt that the integration of the internet into nearly every facet of life has facilitated many beneficial advances, in social connectivity, medicine, political movements, and especially education. The internet is a great resource that when combined with human ingenuity and creativity can lead to great things.


However, like any utility, the internet, when paired with other aspects of human nature, can lead to some less desirable outcomes. For example, the tendency of people to seek the most efficient path toward information often leads to misinformation and less effective communication skills. Instead of asking hard questions of the actual humans in our network, we just go Google it. That’s fine if we’re asking simple questions (like “did the Cubs win today?” or “what is a good asparagus recipe?”), but not for the deeper questions, like “what career would interest me?”, or “what kind of work would I thrive in?”


For that, we need to build our social muscles. For our students working with Golden Educational Consulting, that means “getting names.” That’s what we call the building out of a network that a student can engage to explore a career field or interest. We teach students a variation of skills taught by Jason Elkins and his 100 Cups Academy which focuses on the art of building a network of people who can elevate your understanding of a field of work and enhance your ability to advance in that field. Interested in law, psychology, public policy, medicine, or audio engineering? You are only a few simple steps away from engaging experts in that field, which leads directly to you joining their ranks.


Creating a network is a key step in establishing a strong community for finding your true passions and life’s work. Here’s how you build yours.


Step 1: Scan your six degrees


We’re all familiar with the parlor game the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon in which players throw out the name of an actor and the group must connect them to the prolific Kevin Bacon via co-starring roles in 6 steps or less. This game relies on an actual statistical theory that states that any one person is connected to any other person in the world through, at most, 6-7 acquaintances. The lesson here is that it won’t take you that long to begin to piece together pathways to all kinds of career fields by taking stock of people you (and your immediate acquaintances) know.


Start making lists of people who generally work in some proximity to the field you are considering, and ask your parents, extended family, and close friends to do the same. As you will see shortly, you don’t need an exhaustive list to begin with, so 4-5 names is good.


Step 2: Make a connection


Put together an email from you personally to this person indicating that you are a high school student interested in learning more about the work this person does and whether they would have 15 minutes for a quick zoom call. While you may need to do some follow up to get an answer (just wait a week and send a “checking in on this” kind of email), you will most certainly get a positive response. I have yet to meet adults who would say no to helping a young person learn about their career field and most take it as a compliment.


Step 3: Ask THE question


When you are actually meeting with your contacts, stick to personal questions like:

  1. How did you come to work in this field?

  2. What is your typical day like?

  3. What is your educational background?

Then transition to advice questions like:

  1. What advice would you give someone like me who is considering this field?

  2. What’s a mistake that some young people make when considering this field?

  3. What colleges have good reputations for people in your field?


And then, the last question you always want to ask is, “Is there anyone you know who would be a good person for me to talk to about this field?”


This is the magic question and is a key moment in the creation of your network. If this person can connect you with another 2-3 people, your network just experienced exponential growth. Not just that, you now have the power of a referral on your side when you do reach out to this next layer of experts. Next thing you know, you not only have this ironclad body of knowledge verified by experts in the field, but you have the potential for opportunities like internships and future work opportunities.


This is how meaningful, connected work happens. It’s part information, and part human connection, and it’s entirely doable and simple.


Not working with us yet? Feeling stressed by the college search process? Let's chat.


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