Humans thrive off of connection. We are a social species and interact with each other on a regular basis, which is one of the reasons we have been able to reach the top of the food chain. We primarily use these connections in social settings, but they can also be helpful professionally.
When you think of being social in a professional context, your brain probably conjures up images of workplace niceties, like small talk and gossip. However, there is another level to socializing professionally: professional networking.
What is networking, and why is it important?
Networking is the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional contacts. At its core, networking is connecting to establish a mutually beneficial relationship. Mutually beneficial, how?
Because connections in the professional world can help you learn new skills, increase your pay, and even land new roles.
It's not what you know but who you know.
Let's say you are an aspiring data scientist (like me!) who wants tips on how to get into the field. Suppose you use Google and search for tips for aspiring data scientists. In that case, most results won't be personalized to your situation or specific goals.
On the other hand, if you network, you can contact a data scientist already in the field you want to get into and ask them all your questions. This data scientist can give you personalized tips and provide experience from their time in the area. This is far better than the one-dimensional answers that Google would provide.
Networking can even lead to internships and job opportunities. Imagine a scenario where you develop a rapport with a senior member in your chosen field. You have regular conversations and begin to form a professional relationship.
If they come across an opening in their company that might fit your description, they will refer it to you and recommend you to the hiring manager. This can help you tremendously when it comes to your job search. One of the first things people do when looking for a job is announce their need to their network, which can help hook them up.
Alright, you're sold on the benefits of networking. But how do you start this skill while you're still in high school?
Networking in High School With LinkedIn
The number one place online to build a professional network is LinkedIn.
Photo by Bastian Riccardi via Pexels
LinkedIn is a networking site where professionals connect to advance their careers. Similar to other social sites, each individual has a profile. However, on LinkedIn, each profile is essentially a digital resume, highlighting an individual's work experience, education, and more.
On LinkedIn, you can look at other people's profiles and send them connection requests to add them to your network. If they accept, you can send them messages and ask for recommendations, endorsements, and more.
Imagine the aforementioned scenario, where you want to contact a professional in your desired field to learn more about it. That is made far easier with LinkedIn, where you can search for "data scientist" or "doctor" in the search bar and get hundreds of results instantly.
Another way that you can use LinkedIn is to find like-minded, ambitious high schoolers. Like you, high schoolers that use LinkedIn are interested in networking with similar people and finding opportunities. You can use LinkedIn to create tight professional relationships with other high schoolers, which can pay off in the future.
You never know where these people might end up or when you might need to contact them, so forming relationships with them at a young age is a great idea. Specifically, when it comes to high school, networking can help you learn about lucrative opportunities such as internships, startup ideas, and others that can help you further your career.
For example, while looking at other high school students' profiles, you might stumble upon an internship you would like or a company you want to get involved in. Similarly, while chatting with these students, they might mention an exciting opportunity. Regardless of how you find your next opportunity, networking on LinkedIn will be a part of it. I can remember more than half a dozen opportunities I stumbled upon due to LinkedIn (writing for The Teen Magazine included!).
The result of building a great network and community is finding great opportunities.
Networking In Person
In addition to networking online, there are many different ways in which you can network in person. Networking in person is better than online since the person you are talking to can associate a face with a name rather than being limited to what your profile shows.
Here's a list of some events that can allow you to meet new people and network with them:
Hackathons: These are events in the programming community, where hundreds of programmers come together to code solutions to a given problem. The one with the most innovative solution emerges as the winner. However, beyond these accolades, hackathons also offer a valuable opportunity to network.
You are put in the same room as hundreds of people interested in the same things as you. Who could ask for a better way to form a community?
Conferences: Every profession has conferences and conventions featuring reputed speakers and industry leaders. While attending these conferences might seem like a long shot for high schoolers, it's not impossible. For example, one of my acquaintances was able to score a ticket to Collision Conference, which is North America's most prominent tech industry conference. But here's the kicker: he got the ticket to a networking conference by contacting his network to see who had an extra one.
Clubs: Another way to build a network in person is to reach out to other members of clubs you are involved in. You likely already know each other and share a common interest, so it's easier than if you were connecting out of the blue.
Networking Events: These events are hosted by companies or organizations with the sole purpose of facilitating networking. The best thing about this is that everyone is there for the same purpose as you. While people might ignore you at conferences, hackathons, or clubs, no one at a networking event will.
That's because all networking event attendees have the common goal of connecting with other professionals. If there's one of these near you, I recommend going.
Your network is your net worth. Starting to network while still in high school will help you advance your career further than you could ever imagine. You will be aware of new opportunities, learn about new technologies and strategies that you can apply, and get to know people that can help you in your professional career.
Strong social relationships have been identified as one of the things that make life easier and more enjoyable. Having strong professional relationships will do the same thing for your career.
If you want a place to start networking, you're always welcome to connect with me on LinkedIn. Good luck on your journey!