There are different types of networks. Some are more useful than others in different seasons of your life.

If you want to build the most valuable network possible, then you should aim to build a robust network — filled with a variety of people from different stages and walks of life.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how to think about the “types” of networks.

4 Types of Networks (Horizontal vs. Vertical)

Your Horizontal Network

Most of us over-index on a “Horizontal” network when we’re just starting out. That’s natural. Especially when you’re in school.

Think of your horizontal network as the group of people who are the same age / life stage as you. They’re at approximately the same point in their journeys as you are in yours. You’re closest friends, spouse, and closest professional connections will probably come from this network.

Unfortunately, when you’re a teen or 20-something, your horizontal network typically can’t do much in the way of helping you access job opportunities.

That’s where a vertical network comes in handy.

Your Vertical Network

If you’re a teen or 20-something, you should be building a vertical network. There are two parts to this.

First, there’s the group of people farther ahead of you in their lives and careers. Current and future bosses, mentors, coaches, professors, role models, potential investors, etc. People who have already accomplished what you’re setting out to.

In most cases, this group will be the most immediately useful to you when you’re just starting out. Which is important to keep in mind. Because eventually you’ll be part of this group for someone else.

That’s where the other part of the vertical network is useful. Think of this as the group of people you are ahead of in your career.

The best network couples peers, mentors, and mentees. It’s a beautiful, reciprocal arrangement. Everyone feeding value back into the network.

But there are also other dimensions to a network to keep in mind.

4 Types of Networks (General vs. Specific)

Your General Network

As you set out in your education and career, you’ll make tons of interesting connections, friends, acquaintances. Many of them will go on to specialize in different stuff than you. They’ll read different books, listen to different podcasts, develop different hobbies, hang out with different people.

But your shared connection from some point in the past will allow you to maintain rapport.

Your general network typically develops as a result of age, station, or occupation.

Think of your classmates, alumni from your alma mater, your neighbors, the people who go to your church, or your co-workers from a different department.

Your connection arises from a happy accident — call it serendipity — rather than deliberate choice. And that’s totally fine.

These relationships are still a critical part of a robust network. In fact, many people from this network may become your closest friends, your spouse, or even close confidants.

But this is an important contrast to a specific network.

Your Specific Network

Think of this as a network of people who are experts at what they do. That’s not an entirely adequate description, but it will suffice.

Your specific network is a function of deliberate “networking”. People you seek out for a specific reason.

Maybe it’s to learn from someone who knows more than you. Maybe it’s part of a professional association tailored to people who are experts in your field. Maybe it’s to raise money. Maybe it’s people you want to work with or hire.

While it’s not just about people knowing more than you, that’s as good a proxy as any. You discover someone you want to connect with, and you leverage your shared interest as a way to connect.

Your specific network can be extremely useful any time you’re working toward a specific objective. There are the people you end up working with or for — because you’re really excited about a shared vision.

This network will only become more important as you enter new seasons of life.

How To Build A Robust Network

Thinking about these types of networks, the best “shape” might be a circle.

You want people ahead of you in their lives, you want peers, and you want people you can bring along. You want people who about a lot of stuff, you want people who know a lot about some stuff, you want a collection of people who share the same interests / values / nostalgia / past experiences, etc.

The best way to build your robust network is by getting out into the world and trying stuff. You’ll learn, you’ll get more clarity about what interests you more, and you’ll identify stuff you want to learn more about.

You’ll begin to build a horizontal, vertical, and general network almost by happenstance. But it will take deliberate effort to grow you specific network.

The best way you can develop all dimensions of your network is by finding ways to be valuable to other people. Not just the “specific network” types, either. But valuable to everyone in all dimensions of your network.

Be the kind of person other people want to spend time with, converse with, and work with. This is the easiest “hack” for growing your network.

As you discover areas of your life you want to deepen, then deliberately seek out people farther along than you and find ways to be valuable.

For example, maybe someone is working on a project that excites you in a domain you want to learn more about. Great! Find one specific way you can help them advance their project. Do as much of the work as you can to develop your idea, then pitch them on it. This won’t always work out but when it does it works wonders (many of the coolest friendships, professional connections I have started off from something like this).

How Not To Network

A final word about networking — it’s not about collecting business cards or finding people who can do you favors. It’s not about what you can get. The best network is the result of what you give.

If you want to surround yourself with cool, interesting, smart, wealthy, healthy, successful people, then it’s a simple formula, really:

  1. Become the type of person people like that would want to associate with.
  2. Find ways to be valuable to them.

It’s really that simple. Now go find a way to be valuable to someone. Best of luck.

Mitchell Earl
Post by Mitchell Earl
February 1, 2024
COO @DiscoverPraxis: I mentor young adults to take agency over their lives, careers, and money. | Career Bound Podcast | Author of Don't Do Stuff You Hate