Step 4. Network in person and via social media throughout your career.
Networking! Networking! Networking! Enough already, you might be thinking to yourself. Perhaps you’re tired of hearing people tell you that you need to be networking or you’re afraid to force yourself to reach out to and interact with people you don’t know. And, if you’re a high school student, you may be thinking that you’re not even sure of what networking IS.
Well, dear students, please consider this. Where your thoughts and feelings about stretching beyond your comfort zone are real for you from your current perspective of the world of work, from the outside looking in, you are able to only imagine what networking might be like. So I’ll ask you to consider that there truly might be some positive and energizing aspects to networking that, once you are aware of them, just might calm your fears and change your mind. So, let’s spend a few minutes clarifying what networking is and, perhaps, even give you a few reasons why you might actually enjoy networking once you begin doing it.
Let’s start by answering the big question. What IS networking? According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary , “Networking Is the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.”
Even though, if you are visiting this site as a student, you may be a long way from conducting a search for your first full-time job, you are, at least starting to, think about what course of study to pursue, be it technical training or a college degree, and you are, even now, ‘working’ your way toward your lifework, or the body of work you’re going to produce over your lifetime. With this in mind, networking can help you begin to prepare the ground out of which your future employment will emerge. It’s all connected. And, the sooner you begin building your own personal network of relationships the stronger the foundation you will have on which to build your career, once the time comes for you to search for that first full-time job.
So, for now, let’s consider some of the reasons you might want to begin networking, cultivating those productive relationships, sooner than later. You could begin networking to help you …
… work through the decisions you’re making about what’s your next best step to take after high school. The number of elements that go into making this decision can be overwhelming as it is. Having people with whom you can “talk out” all the thoughts swirling around in your head might help you sort through them and make them seem more manageable.
… research and learn more about and/or perform a “reality check” on possible career options. By finding people who do what you think you’d like to do, you might find people willing to grant you an informational interview about their career path, the work they do, the industry in which they work and so much more.
… find an internship, volunteer experience or part-time job with or around those who you would aspire to be like some day may. These types of opportunities can help you get a better idea how well suited, or not, you may be to the type of work you’re considering
… feel supported by connecting and sharing information with others who are going through the process of making similar decisions can be comforting and beneficial to all.
… connect with someone who has attended or is attending the training program or college to which you’re thinking of applying to give you the personal input into your decision making that you cannot get from the online catalog or college brochures.
… identify other people who share your interests. You never know when pursuing a hobby or avocational interest in the company of other ‘like-mindeds’ might give you the feedback and encouragement to turn it into a career.
Have any of these reasons made sense to you? If so, I’m hoping they’ve helped you generate a bit of energy that you can channel into this networking ‘thing’, both in person and via social media. And, once you know what you want and need to help you develop and take action on a life/work plan, please DO begin to ask for it. Tell you family, friends, neighbors, teachers and anyone else you can think of, about what you would like to learn and the types of people you would like to meet. You’ll never know what may come of your requests to connect, to network, until you ask. So, here’s to your getting clear about those with whom you’d like to make a connection and then may you enjoy a lifetime of productive and fulfilling networking.
Ready? Set? Network!.
Donna Sandberg, M.S., NCC, MCC, LCPC, is a career counselor and owner of Career Path (career-path.org), a private practice providing career counseling and consulting services in Naperville, Illinois since 1987. She brings a multifaceted approach to her clients in the career counseling process.