Networking—Relationship Chains and Webs

People talking at a social event

Do you remember learning about food chains and webs in elementary school? Ecosystems are filled with millions of different species that need each other to survive. Some organisms consume in a linear sequence (food chain). Others depend on a network of connections (food web). These interactions are integral to the balance of an ecosystem.

You can apply these principles to your career or personal “ecosystem”. As humans, we thrive off interaction with others. Our individual development can come through the stimulation and encouragement of those around us. What relationships do we tend to value and cultivate the most? For most people, those would be familial relationships and long-standing friendships.

What about beyond that?

As our careers begin to blossom, we start to focus on who we should connect with on LinkedIn or what events will yield the most results. We begin to place priority on certain people and not others.

To understand the value of these relationships, I created a model based off the elementary science. I will refer to this as “Relationship Chains and Webs.” In this model there are certain categories of relationships that I have seen through my career and education.

Vertical Chain

Gut instinct will tell us that we should be focused on meeting professionals at a higher standing than where we currently are. Executives, managers and professionals are in your vertical chain. We recognize that these individuals are in a place where we hope to be one day and so it’s essential to remain close and observe. Look for opportunities to be mentored. It will benefit you throughout your career.

Horizontal Chain

In the early stages of your career, relationships with peers are extremely valuable. Classmates, friends and co-workers are in your horizontal chain. Unfortunately, these types of relationships are often not cultivated the way they should be. We can get into the trap of believing these relationships are only social or temporary. Break through that logic and recognize that peers are like your teammates and by working together you can accomplish greater feats.


A Relationship Web is created when your vertical and horizontal chains are connected together. This is accomplished by forging strong relationships with peers and superiors, and finding opportunities to connect them together. This can be difficult and often involve multiple connections down a chain to work effectively.

To illustrate these principles, let me give you an example:

Vertical Chain –

You meet an professional during a guest lecture at school. After the meeting, you exchange information and follow-up with them. Occasionally, you will reach out to them in email and express interest in working for them if a position came available.

Horizontal Chain –

You develop a strong relationship with a classmate that was a year further ahead in their studies. Perhaps you had classes together and have worked on a team. You stay connected through social media and meet up for lunch occasionally.

Web –

A classmate works for a company and is receiving a promotion. They ask if you want to apply for their former position. After doing some research, you discover the executive that you had previously met works for the same company. Your classmate goes to their superior and recommends you to fill their position. You are brought in for an interview and subsequently hired, because of your previous connection and recommendation from your classmate.

While this scenario seems too good to be true, it actually occurs fairly often. I have experienced that through my efforts to develop a Relationship Web, doors have opened.

—Wrap Up—

The takeaway that I want you to understand is that ALL relationships are valuable. As young professionals, you can place value in one chain and not the other. You need to regularly cultivate and strengthen them. As you place emphasis on connecting your chains together, your network will become stronger.

Imagine for a moment the concept of ancient chainmail. On their own, individual rings can come apart. Even linked together in a chain, the material is still penetrable. Create the strongest bond by weaving the rings together.


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