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The Introvert’s Guide to Networking in High School
Everybody knows that networking is important; you’ll hear this advice over and over in reference to the college application process, extracurricular activities, internship opportunities, and your future career plans. Meeting people and building connections is an essential part of working toward your goals.
For many students, networking successfully is easier said than done. This is particularly true if you’re introverted, shy, or unsure of yourself in high-pressure social situations. However, you’re not out of luck — there are ways to develop your networking skills so that you can reap the benefits of all the relationships you’re able to build.
Read on to find out why networking really is that important, and how to get better at building networking relationships as an introvert.
Why Networking in High School is Important
It’s undeniable that networking can be a difficult task, especially for introverts. However, it’s equally undeniable that networking is extremely important, even when you’re still in high school. This is a skill that you need to develop early in order to give yourself the best chance at success in college admissions and beyond.
The word “networking” carries a lot of weight and can be intimidating for some, so you can also think of it as building relationships with others and giving them the opportunity to get to know you better. Your relationships with others can help you both directly and indirectly when you’re applying to college, looking for jobs, and contemplating different career paths.
Networking doesn’t just help you to succeed in reaching your goals; it also helps you to identify opportunities in the first place. Some jobs, internships, and volunteer positions may be filled by people with internal connections long before they ever reach the open market. People may debate as to whether this is fair, but for the time being, this is the reality you’ll encounter in college and in the working world.
Being conscious of networking in high school will also help you to prepare for future networking situations that may come with higher stakes. Most immediately, it will help make sure that you have people on hand who can write letters of recommendation for your applications. It’s impossible for someone to write a really good recommendation for you if they don’t know you well. (Check out our post How to Get College Recommendation Letters: Building Recommender Relationships for more on this topic.)
Of course, some people have easier or better access to networking opportunities than others, which can be very frustrating. However, you may have more connections than you realize. Below, we’ll go over how to assess your potential network, identify the aspects of the networking process that are most challenging for you, and come up with solutions that allow you to access the benefits of networking.
Identifying Your Networking Opportunities and Challenges
The first step in improving your networking skills is identifying what resources you have to work with, as well as what difficulties are currently preventing you from accessing these resources. Networking doesn’t have to mean cold-calling strangers — much more often, it means recognizing and making effective use of the connections that already exist in your life.
Some questions that you might ask yourself at the beginning of the process include:
- To whom are you connected right now? Think about your family, friends, neighbors, teachers, coworkers, members of your religious community, or others who you interact with regularly.
- To whom or what are your connections connected? Where do the people you know work? What backgrounds, experiences, and acquaintances do they have?
- What are your interests and goals? Knowing what you want to do is a prerequisite for identifying potentially useful experiences and connections.
- What people or organizations could be resources for you in achieving your goals? You’ll need to be knowledgeable about your field and able to recognize important names or resources in conversation.
- What kind of relationships do you want or need to build? This could be an informal mentoring relationship, a more formal advisory relationship, someone to ask a few questions to, or more — it depends upon your goals and your field.
Another aspect of the process to consider is which communication methods are easiest and hardest for you personally to manage. Some people feel most comfortable meeting in person; others prefer the written format of email. Some people are fine with having a detailed, publicly viewable LinkedIn profile, while others are more reticent online.
It’s true that you often won’t get a choice as to which avenue of communication you’ll need to use to connect with a particular person. Still, it’s a good idea to identify what works best for you and what methods will involve more effort or stress.
Strategies for Better Networking as an Introvert
Once you’ve identified opportunities, it’s time to work on approaching, engaging with, and managing your networking connections. Here are some tips and strategies for seeking out and making the most of networking opportunities in high school, even if you’re an introvert:
- Start where you are. Use the relationships you already have, and work first on developing the sorts of connections that naturally present themselves in your life.
- Practice identifying and describing your interests and goals to others. The more those around you know about what you’re invested in, the more they’ll be able to offer suggestions and help you make useful connections.
- Come prepared. Keep an accurate, professional-looking, up-to-date resume on hand. Create and maintain a LinkedIn profile, as we discuss in our post How to Make An Effective LinkedIn Page, which can help you to identify potential networking opportunities as well as create a positive web presence linked to your name. (As a bonus for introverts, a well-crafted public profile creates lower-stress opportunities for you to get noticed by potential connections.)
- Play to your strengths. When you have a choice, choose methods of communication and self-promotion that make it easier for you to maintain confidence, communicate effectively, and demonstrate your strengths.
- Stay organized. Keep personal records of who you’ve talked with, what they do, and what was said in your conversation, including any suggestions your connection made. If you promise to send someone your resume or check in again in a month, leave yourself a note or set a reminder on your phone to actually do it. Compounding introversion with procrastination will only make it more difficult for you to build working relationships with others.
- Rehearse networking interactions. This may sound silly, but it can actually help to practice with friends or family. You can even write down your intended introduction and explanation of your interests and refer to that document when rehearsing — this can help you refine your approach and hit all the important points. (This type of introduction is sometimes referred to as an “elevator pitch.”)
- Challenge yourself with specific, measurable goals. Don’t expect to become an expert overnight — instead, set appropriate intermediate goals and work on them regularly. If you only manage to email one possible connection the first month, that’s better than nothing, and it’s a step in the right direction!
There’s nothing wrong with not being the most extroverted person in the room — introverts have their own set of positive qualities. Besides, most people are less outgoing in some situations than in others, so it may just be a matter of putting yourself in circumstances that bring out your more confident side.
Being introverted or shy can definitely make networking harder, but at the same time, networking effectively is a skill that can be learned. Whether or not you’re naturally outgoing, and especially if you’re not, you’ll find that putting some conscious work into developing your networking capabilities will pay off for years to come.
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