Networking is the act or process of meeting people (usually strangers) in a number of environments and settings (professional, personal, etc.) in order to build varying degrees of connections and relationships. As one builds their network, they now have a collection of people they can turn to, in a variety of roles and levels of influence when the need or opportunity arises.
Why is networking important? The larger your network, the greater your sphere of influence. Say your friend’s aunt is an accountant, and you’re interested in possibly studying accounting. She has knowledge, insights and connections - all things you don’t have. She may be able to give you some advice regarding some of the classes or clubs you should consider in college. Maybe there’s someone in her office who specializes in the area you want to focus on and can help secure a job shadow experience for you. These are opportunities that can only come through interpersonal relationships as you build your own network. To find out more about networking, as well as some strategies on how to do it, check out the resources below.
Helping You: How Building Your Network Can Benefit You
Networking can be extremely beneficial. While people certainly get into colleges, get coveted jobs, and find goods and services all on their own without a single “connection,” it is just as common for someone to get that initial interview or find that plumber or doctor based on a friend’s or family member’s recommendation. That comes through networking. Of course, you may give - or be given - an opportunity based on a recommendation in your network. But it’s what you do with the opportunity that determines what happens next.
Sometimes, you need to be intentional in building your network. In my job, work occasionally means going to different events or functions. Rather than being a wallflower, or even just sticking only to the people I know and recognize, I often make it a point to meet new people and build new relationships and connections. These simple interactions are the polite and friendly thing to do. However, every once in a while, they also lead to future opportunities that benefit one or - ideally - both of us, and hopefully lead to more lasting partnerships and/or friendships.
Helping Others: Networking is a Two-way Street
Keep in mind that networking is not just about what you can get. It’s also about what you can give. If you are constantly asking or taking, doing all the talking or making everything about you, those in your network will be less and less willing to help. Be interested in others’ thoughts, dreams and challenges. Whenever you have a need, consider how your ask might also benefit the other party.
Where Do I Begin?
This is one of the biggest questions people have, both young and old, when it comes to networking: How do I start? There are several ways to network, from the informal to the formal. Here are few different ways to get started:
- Start with friends and family - Put together a letter or email explaining what you want to do, why you want to do it, and how it will help you. Or, just start making calls. Ask your loved ones if they know of anyone who might be willing to help get you started. When asked appropriately, most people are flattered and eager to help share their knowledge, insights or just be a help to someone else, especially young people.
- Get involved in the area(s) you’re looking to develop contacts in - Whether it be an organization, club/team, or whatever, you need to be around the people who either do it, know it or know someone who does. So, join these groups, or find social gatherings and events so you can build those connections.
- Get online & do some digging - Thanks to the internet, you have the world at your fingertips. Do some research. Depending on where you want to develop or expand your network, you can arm yourself with information to help you make good choices on who to reach out to and what to say.
Tips for Building Your Network
- Develop your Elevator Speech - Say you were in an elevator and someone got on that you really wanted to talk to. Most elevator rides aren’t long. What would you say in 30-60 seconds that would allow you to both introduce yourself and capture the person’s attention while saying what needed to be said before they got off? That is your elevator speech; a basic summary of you and what you want to say that you could comfortably repeat when meeting people. This is your “opener” and introduction when you are networking.
- Create a positive web presence - Have an instagram, snapchat, or twitter account? Great. How are you using it? Is it just for personal use, and if so, what would people say about you when they view it? Also, consider creating a LinkedIn profile. Many experts and recruiters say this is a significant way for even high schoolers to begin building current and future professional connections.
- 6 Degrees of Separation - This is the theory that all people can be connected to one another in as little as 6 connections (or less). The point is, our world is becoming increasingly “smaller.” It’s not about who you know, but who your contacts can connect you with. Sometimes, getting a hold of the right person is just a couple layers away. So don’t be afraid to peel the layers!
Lesson Plans - Resources - Videos
- Networking & Elevator Speech Lesson
- Classroom Activity for Teaching Teamwork & Networking
- Blog with Lesson and Team Assignment available for download
- Networking BINGO: Lesson Plan & Activity