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How to Network While You’re Still in High School and Why It Matters

Networking is really all about having good conversations, being memorable, and providing value.

“Networking” is a term that makes a lot of people cringe, and understandably so. It tends to conjure images of forced small talk and fake smiles. It sounds … phony.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way. Networking – if you’re doing it right – is about cultivating mutually beneficial relationships, not simply adding contacts to your phone. For a CEO, it might mean connecting with an investor who has similar financial interests. For a college student, it could mean befriending someone who can help you get a foot in the door at your dream company.

And for high school students, it means seeking genuine connections with potential mentors or community leaders. These are people who can offer guidance as you begin your college search, and who can provide you with letters of recommendation during the admissions process.

Why should I start networking now?

Because the stakes are low. You care about your day-to-day relationships, of course, but there are no big promotions or business ventures on the line. Yet. Now’s the perfect time to practice networking (that is, making friends with people outside your immediate social circle) while you have plenty of room and time to grow, make mistakes, learn, and explore different interests.

Where do I begin?

There’s an opportunity to network in nearly any situation where you’re interacting with other people. Ideally, you should make it a point to put yourself in situations where you’re mingling with people you respect, and who can provide you with skills or advice relevant to your career interests and personal development.

Don’t push it, though. In an article for The Washington Post, Jonathan Aberman writes: “People who are overtly transactional when they are with others are probably not going to be good at building networks.” Again, it’s about connections, not contacts. “Building a relationship takes time,” says Aberman.

For now, you might try volunteering in your community, trying out for a leadership role in a student club, or getting a summer job where you’ll be interacting with members of the public.

But I’m an introvert. How do I get started?

When it comes down to it, networking is all about having good conversations, being memorable, and providing value. Work on becoming a good conversationalist. Practice active listening. Ask people questions about themselves and consider how you can provide value to them.

And, learn how to talk about yourself. This might seem counterintuitive in regards to making good conversation, but it’s important to answer confidently when someone says, “Tell me about yourself.” This will happen more often as you get closer to graduation and college, and it’s a great opportunity to examine your strengths and personal interests.

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