What is networking anyway? Networking is more than just an information exchange between you and another person. It's about establishing real relationships with others who will often become your friends and mentors as you grow. They may be able to help you in many ways, and equally importantly, you may be able to help them. A networking relationship is a give-and-take.
Why is this important now? People in your network can open opportunities to volunteer, help you learn about possible careers, provide academic support, write recommendations for college or scholarship applications, help you find employment opportunities and serve as references for prospective employers. Networking is a skill that you can build throughout your life, but the earlier you start will lead to early success and an even bigger network in your future.
Through networking, you'll develop your social skills. Your confidence will grow. The world will begin to open up for you!
Here are some networking tips:
Each day is an opportunity to network. Practice your "elevator speech", that quick sentence or two that describes you, your strengths and your goals. Each time you meet someone new, listen closely for a connection they might have to something you are interested in.
Keep it casual. Networking isn't about selling yourself. It's about getting to know other people and discovering ways the relationship can grow and also ways you can help each other.
Practice! Nerves are natural. The more practice you have with friends or family, the more comfortable you will be in a real networking situation.
Use social media…appropriately. You probably have a huge network of friends on social media. Just remember than anything you post online may be visible to anyone – employers and colleges included. Make sure your Facebook profile shows you in a positive light. It's also never too early to begin building a LinkedIn profile. This is a chance to really sell yourself with your accomplishments.
Consider getting business cards. A professional business card leaves a great impression with someone you meet. Keep the cards basic – just phone and email address. Cards are an easy way to exchange contact information when you meet someone who can possibly assist in obtaining an internship or a job.
Get out there. True interpersonal interactions lead to quicker and stronger connections. When you actually speak with someone, rather than e-communicating with them, you develop a stronger relationship and have a better understanding of them.
Take a chance. It's hard to step outside your comfort zone. Starting a conversation with an adult you never met is not easy. Going to a networking event can be intimidating. But remember, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain! If it doesn't work today, start again tomorrow. Decide to try. It WILL happen!
Keep in touch and nurture your network. Don't let connections disappear. Periodically think about who you haven't heard from in a while and shoot them a quick email just to check in.
Be a connector. What's a connector? It's someone who enables connections between others. This grows your network and creates value for others which will tend to come back to you in the future.
Keep in mind that networking is BOTH about developing connections and about helping others. It's a win-win for everyone!