In high school, we have our social, academic, and athletic connections. The people we surround ourselves with know our passions, skills, and who we are. How do we apply this to our career? A professional network consists of the connections that are related to your career and people in similar fields. It is a process of developing long-term relations with others for mutual relationships.
As a high schooler, developing your professional network early can be a great tool in jumpstarting your career in your desired field. The benefits of a professional network are discovering new pathways and career ideas, finding mentors, learning from their experiences, mistakes, and successes, building a support system, and developing interpersonal skills. Here are some essentials to building your network:
Start With Your Community
Believe it or not, you already know a ton of people with professional careers. Start building your network with what is familiar to you. A great resource is your parents or guardians. Who do they know? Do they work in the field you are interested in? Or do they know someone who does? Get connected with those people via email or phone to learn about their experiences and journey. Reach out to your friend’s parents whose careers seem interesting to you. Look within your established social, academic, and athletic connections to find people are interesting or inspirational.
Adults love being role models and mentors to young adults, so take advantage of that! Some good advice I received recently is that “You are only a student for so long. People love helping students because they are curious and eager to learn. Many doors are open while you are a student, so take full advantage of them now.”
Create a LinkedIn
LinkedIn is “a social network for career professionals” and is essential for everyone in every field. It is very easy to set up a profile, just take out your resume and add everything on it to your LinkedIn profile. With LinkedIn, people can see your profile and everything you have accomplished (just like your resume!). You can connect and follow professionals and establish a visible network. Start by adding people in your communities and you will quickly find out how many people you know in a variety of fields. When I set up my LinkedIn, I went to my dad’s profile and added all the adults in his network that I also knew.
We have all been in that situation where you are at a social event with your parents and their friends and an adult asks you “So, what activities do you do?” or “What are you interested in?” etc. Being able to present yourself well is very important when verbally networking and having your elevator pitch down is key. An elevator pitch is a concise synthesis of who you are. The idea is that if you were in an elevator with someone, they could quickly learn about you before the ride was over.
There are 4 C’s when developing your elevator pitch:
- Concise: keep your pitch between 1-2 mins
- Compelling: tell the listener what makes you unique and make it easy to follow
- Conceptual: talk about yourself at a high level, you are so accomplished!
- Conversational: be engaging, this is a great way to practice your interpersonal skills.
An awesome hack is to have an open-ended question at the end of your pitch to spark a conversation. If you know that the person works in the field that interests you, a good question is “How did you find your passion for [blank]?” Not only are you establishing yourself, but you are showing an interest in the listener. After this awesome conversation, do not forget to follow up with them on LinkedIn or email!
Get Experience and Attend Events
This summer, I had an internship at a tech company in the Greater Seattle Area. I met 25 new people, all with their own unique career pathways and experiences. I also added 25 new LinkedIn connections. Adding people from your job experience is great for your network. Do not be shy to add people to your network from work. Building those connections is important no matter what type of job. Those connections can be references. They have worked with you before and know who you are as a professional.
Another way to gain connections is by attending events and workshops. I also attended a business camp at UW-Foster this summer. They brought in guest speakers for us from across the Seattle area. I followed up with all the speakers who were interesting to me on LinkedIn. Additionally, I connected with my camp leaders, RAs, and other business students. I discovered so many connections from meeting with like-minded people. We also had a guest speaker who taught us Networking 101, which inspired this article!
The beauty of networking is that it never ends! Your network is always growing, regardless of what you are doing. Your interactions establish relationships that can be valuable in the future. Networking is mutual– not only will they be in your network, but you will be in theirs. You are assets to them! With a big network, opportunities will come your way. The majority of professional jobs are filled through networking and contacts, so building your network now will be invaluable for your future. The sooner you start, the sooner you will be able to find opportunities!