Networking is getting to know people and letting them get to know you. Job advice often starts with someone telling you to “network.” But what does that mean? When you’re in networking mode, conversations tend to focus on school, work, and common interests. The goal is to create a list of contacts─a network if you will─consisting of people who can help you throughout your life.
Why is networking important for a high school student?
Networking is a skill that you’ll use your whole life. In fact, research shows that 70% of people get jobs through their connections. Consequently, the earlier you get started, the more practice you’ll have.
In addition, the relationships you build aren’t just between you and the other person. They’re between both of your networks. In other words, through the other person you’ve met, you now have an entry point to the people in their network. These relationships can become invaluable as you think about college and career. For instance, it’s possible, through networking, to meet someone who graduated from your dream college and who might be willing to write you a recommendation. You could also get to know people who can tell you about new and interesting careers or who might have a job opportunity for you.
How do I network as a student?
It can be hard to know where to begin, but─good news─you already have the makings of your own network. Take some time to make a list of everyone you can think of who’s someone you’d want to talk to about college, work, or both. These can be friends, teachers, co-workers, classmates, relatives, neighbors, teammates, people in your religious community … anyone!
If you don’t feel like you already have people who can be your base network, don’t worry. Instead, make a list of the types of people you’d like to get to know. These could be people who go to or work at a particular college, people who teach a subject you want to know more about, or people who work in a specific field.
Once you know who you’d like to network with, it’s time to get started. Here are some ideas:
- Casual conversation: Often, networking isn’t formal. It’s what happens naturally when people meet. The next time you’re talking with someone who could be a good addition to your network, make sure to ask relevant questions such as:
- What did you like or not like about your school?
- What kinds of things do you get to do in your job?
Remember, this is a two-way street. Be willing to answer questions and share information about your interests and goals.
- Clubs and other organizations: People in clubs tend to have interests in common. It’s likely they may be able to help you as you move forward in life.
- Networking events: Some schools and communities set up official networking events for high school students, such as college or job fairs. Take advantage of these opportunities.
- Online networking: Websites like LinkedIn are designed for networking. Setting up a profile is a perfect way to publicize your experience and get to know others. Social media is also an ideal networking tool for connecting you with people of similar interests.
- Jobs/Internships: Anyone you meet in a professional setting is a potential addition to your network─both peers and bosses.
- Informational interviews: These are conversations you can set up with someone who’s working in a career or at a college you’re interested in. Although these chats may not lead directly to a job or college admission, they’re a great learning opportunity. You can then add the people you’ve met to your network.
Networking can be intimidating so here are some tips:
- Relax and be yourself.
- Keep in touch. Occasional emails, texts, phone calls, or social media interactions can help you stay on someone’s radar. Decide which of these types of communication works best for you and for the person you’re reaching out to.
- Keep people in your network updated on your college or work goals. The more up to date people are, the more they may be able to help you.
- Be polite and professional, especially when networking with adults or people who may be in a position of power (e.g., a college admissions officer or a potential employer).
- Say “thank you.” If someone in your network goes out of their way to help you, make sure they know this effort is appreciated.