How to Start and Grow Your Professional Network

What Is Networking? Why Do It? How Does It Work?  

Developing a strong professional network is critical for success, no matter where your career or interests take you. Professional networking is based on the concept of social capital, which refers to the value that comes from building and maintaining social connections. 

In the job market, social capital is key because it can help you access valuable information, resources, and opportunities that otherwise might not be available to you. When you network, you're not only building your social capital, but you're also strengthening your personal brand and credibility. Networking allows you to showcase your skills, experience, and personality to others, which can create a positive impression and lead to new opportunities.  

How Do You Start Building Your Own Professional Network? 

The good news is, you’ve already begun! You might think your current network is limited to your friends and family, but you should consider teachers, counselors, coworkers, and even the people you know at businesses you like as potential contacts. Almost anyone can be a link in your network! Think about your network as a garden of opportunities—you want to be intentional about what you put in your garden, and some of the seeds you plant won’t grow, but all of it will take time and nurturing before you know for sure. Patience and cultivation are the keys to making sure your garden of opportunities produces a great harvest.    

Networking with professionals and finding opportunities can seem challenging at first, but don’t get discouraged! Luckily, there are several ways high school students grow their networks by connecting with industry experts and mentors. Here are some suggestions: 

  1. Volunteer or get involved with programs in line with your career interests: Organizations like Habitat for Humanity, your local animal shelter, coding groups, hobby clubs—places where people come together to discuss shared interests are some of the very best opportunities for networking.  
  2. Attend career fairs: Many career fairs feature representatives from vocational schools and trade organizations. Attend these events and take the opportunity to speak with professionals in the field, ask questions, and let your curiosity guide you!  
  3. Research trade organizations or unions: These groups often have local chapters that offer networking opportunities, training programs, and access to job postings. 
  4. Use the power of professional social media: Professional networking sites such as LinkedIn can help you connect with professionals and interest groups in your chosen area. Introduce yourself and ask for advice on how to get started in the industry. You can also find internet forums on any topic you’re interested in. Join discussions, ask questions, and get involved!  
  5. Talk to your school or career counselors: Career and school counselors at your high school may be able to provide information on local vocational schools, certifications, internships and apprenticeships, and mentoring programs. They may also have connections with professionals in the trades or local associations. 

What does networking look like? 

Keep it simple. You want to stay in touch but not be too aggressive. Here are some ideas: 

  • Share an article and LinkedIn with them and ask them their thoughts 
  • Invite them to grab coffee or lunch 
  • Set up a quick call to catch up 
  • Engage with them on social media. Did they post an update on LinkedIn? Give it a comment and like! 

By taking advantage of these resources and actively seeking out opportunities to connect with professionals, high school students can find valuable networking opportunities and training programs that can help them achieve their career goals.