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The Value of Networking

Networking: It’s an intimidating term to be sure.  I remember first hearing that word as a college freshman, and immediately shrinking away from any follow-up conversation in the moment. Networking sounded like something my Dad did at hospital functions, some obscure activity that only mattered to people who were old enough to legally sip wine, who wore suits and ties to work every day, and who had laminated business cards in their wallets ready to hand out following each handshake. None of it made sense to me – who starts discussions with complete strangers anyway? 

 

Well, as crazy as it is for me to admit, freshman year of college was half a lifetime ago now. And boy has my perspective changed! Having seen firsthand the value of networking in wildly dissimilar workplace environments, in a variety of fields and seasons, from coast-to-coast and at different ages, I can tell you confidently that networking counts.  It is important not just as an adult mind you, but as a graduate student, an undergraduate student, and, wait for it…, as a high school student.

 

Essentially, networking refers to interacting with other people to develop professional contacts and relationships and exchanging information.  Often you are aiming to share details about your services with others, but this process is not limited to those who are a part of a small business or a large company.  Meeting with people of all ages can lead to new ideas, learning about different points of view, and building social friendships. 

 

Networking can also effectively allow students to more quickly grow comfortable in a new setting, such as a college campus.  It really only takes effort and a little self-motivation. Go out of your way to introduce yourself to your professors.  Visit them during office hours. Discuss your interests and seek answers to how you can learn more away from campus. You never know who knows who. The conversation that you were initially nervous to have could end up being your way to secure a job interview, or an introduction to the founder of a local business,  or a startup that is on the fast track. If your professor isn’t available, then meet with your TA, who probably has already been through the exact same process that you are experiencing now. You might even meet someone who has a contact at a company through which you can simply request an informational interview.  Taking that step can demonstrate your drive and interest level since you are telling them that learning about the company is something that you value, even if it doesn’t lead to a job.

 

If you are willing to network openly in high school, even better! The lessons you learn and the skills that you develop will all translate to college life. Go out with your friends, and seek new experiences.  Visit museums and sit leisurely in coffee shops. Look for postings on bulletin boards and go online.  Join Nextdoor to see what people nearby are doing. Create a LinkedIn account and be thorough in your profile, especially as it relates to summer internships, volunteering, activities, work history, and overall interests. You do not have to be 25 to have a LinkedIn account, and in fact, many younger students are realizing that it’s a great way to get their names out there.  Talk to recent high school graduates from the year above you, either in person or by sending a private message.  You’d be surprised how many people will take an interest in trying to help peers who share a similar background.

 

Of course, be willing to join clubs as well. There are few better ways to meet people who love the same things that you love. If you don’t know what you love, you are not alone. Pick a club that sounds intriguing and attend the first couple of meetings. Even if that club is the wrong choice, there is huge value in learning what you don’t love as well, because that knowledge helps to narrow your focus going forward. If you’ve tried 10 clubs in high school and found none to your liking, don’t worry!  Your future college will in some cases offer 20 times the number of clubs that your high school did, many of which you’ve probably never heard of.  And if you’re feeling ambitious and can’t find an exact match, consider starting your own club. Those who join will become your contacts, maybe even your friends, and people who remember that you were the one who provided them with a new opportunity.

 

Remember, don’t be afraid to take chances. Put yourself out there and introduce yourself to the world. Today’s students have more opportunities to network than ever before, so be brave and speak up.  Talk to your Insight counselor about the best ways to get started. Better yet, ask us who we know.  We are here to help.

 

Best wishes,

Zach Pava and The Insight Team 

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