Growing up, I’m not sure I ever heard the term “networking.” When I finally heard it in college, it sounded to me like a trendy buzzword that only a business major would use. It made me think of briefcases and fat rolodexes—definitely not anything that would be relevant to me. I was a music performance major and thought the only skill I needed to succeed was a perfect performance.
I was wrong, and, looking back, I missed out on a lot of jobs because of it. Now I understand that no matter the profession, knowing the right people is often just the edge a person needs to book a gig or client or land a full-time job.
Of course, networking isn’t just about knowing people. It’s about real human connection and reputation. So, here’s a few things we can teach our teens to help them build a solid network:
Have your teen send an email to someone they admire, without asking anything in return
This doesn’t necessarily have to be someone who could offer a future job opportunity—at least, not yet. The point is to teach our kids to get in the habit of acknowledging those in their world who have had a positive impact on them. Expressing appreciation isn’t instinctive—it is a learned behavior. And though it can feel awkward or even disingenuous at first, once a kid experiences the payoff of making someone’s day, they understand how this can be both a personal morale booster as well as a potential doorway to future job opportunities.
Teach your teen to share their skills
If I have learned anything in the last decade and a half of being self-employed, it’s that people remember generosity. Small favors I’ve done for people, like offering a writing critique or helping someone with a plugin on their website, have come back to me in the form of cold hard cash. It’s how I got the social media manager position I’ve worked for the last five years. A fellow freelancer noticed me sharing advice with others on how to grow their social media accounts, and she approached me and offered me a job.
We should teach our kids to be generous with their skills in the same way. It may be counterintuitive to do this, because, for most of us, our instinct is that if we give away our tricks, we’ll “help the competition.” But what it really does is make the sharer of information stand out as the expert—and it makes people remember them.
Analyze current conflicts to show how easily reputation can shift
Networking is just as much about not burning bridges as it is about making connections. I want my teen to learn to hold his temper in high-tension situations and think before he speaks so he doesn’t burn bridges. This skill applies to both personal and professional situations. So, when a conflict arises within your teen’s friend group, loop back once the conflict has been resolved. Ask your teen: What actions helped? What actions didn’t help? Who contributed in a way that made you remember them as level-headed and fair? Who contributed in a way that makes you feel that in the future you have to tip-toe around them? We’re not asking our teen to hold a grudge here—but we are asking them to make note of how people’s actions stick in the minds of others and affect future interactions.
Make sure your teen’s social media accounts are set to private
Or at least, make sure whatever is public is something they wouldn’t mind a potential boss seeing. We all know employers typically check a person’s social media accounts before hiring them, but it’s good to keep a squeaky-clean image on social media for general networking purposes too. If a friend of a friend asks for recommendations for a newly open position at their company, a questionable social media account could be a quick disqualification—before the potential hire even knows the job existed.
The bottom line is, our teens need to learn how to network. But they also need to know that networking is about more than simply knowing people. It’s about cultivating a reputation as someone who is hardworking, dependable, and generous. Possessing the skills in your chosen profession are critical to earn employment, but every bit as important is who you know, who knows you, and what those people think of you.