Networking 101 for High Schoolers

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Imagine you’re sitting in a large circular room, surrounded by an infinite set of looming doors. Every couple years at irregular intervals a key will drop into your lap, allowing you to open only one of these infinite doors and forcing you into a new room with a new set of infinite doors.

Now imagine you’re in that same room, but this time, rather than waiting for a key to drop, you start to search. Under your chair, behind the wallpaper, under the table. You hunt and emerge victorious with ten new keys, each which opens a new door. Now, you have the ability to open ten doors, preview what lay behind the door for each one, and have the ability to choose which door you want to go through.

Now let’s put this in context of real life. If you sit around, waiting for opportunities to fall in your lap, then you’ll follow a predetermined path through life with no real ability to choose where it takes you.

In contrast, if you are active in pursuing the opportunities you desire, it will open so many more doors which will give you the freedom to choose your path in life.


So how do you go about being active in pursuing the opportunities you want?

Networking

I know as a high schooler networking might be scary thought, however as a current college student hunting for jobs, I’ve come to recognize and even appreciate how important networking is in getting me the opportunities that I want. Looking back, not taking an active approach to finding extracurriculars has been my biggest regret since I sat around waiting for extracurricular opportunities to fall into my lap. As a result, I only had one and it was through the school: band. Once I got to college, however, I swore I would never take the passive approach again and started heavily utilizing these techniques to get me where I am today.

Hundreds of cold emails, dozens of calls, and a couple video conferences later, I’m here to share the tips I’ve picked up about networking during my job hunt that

even you as a high schooler can utilize to get you the opportunities that you want.

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1. Networking is a dish (best) served cold

If you have no idea where to begin to look for connections, then the best place to start is with cold emailing. The moment I stepped foot on campus, I started in the same place as most high schoolers: nothing on the resume besides a stint at my local boba shop. Yet, I knew I wanted to do economic research, but wouldn’t be taking an econ class until at least my second year. So, I got to emailing.

Here was my resume at the beginning of December of 2019 compared to my resume now. (slide to compare)

I had nothing on my resume going into college, as you can probably tell due to my high school band and brief boba stint being on there as a legitimate experience. But thanks to cold emailing, I was able to fill out my resume. Two of my experiences and my major volunteering experience all came from cold emailing. And it’s only thanks to those two experiences that I was able to even get my internship. But I’ve also left out two more research position offers that I also received just through cold emailing.

So how do you go about cold emailing?

First off, take that little voice in your head which is saying “They’re gonna be annoyed” , “You’re not good enough”, and squash it. I had similar fears when first starting out, however, I’ve come to recognize that everyone wants you to succeed. At worst, they’ll ignore your email and you’ll go your separate ways, and at best, they’ll respond and help out! So take a chance.

Everyone wants you to succeed and people are a lot nicer than you give them credit for!

Then, identify what experiences you want to pursue. If you want to do research, look up professors at your local college and see which professors pursue research which interests you. Even if you’re not a STEM student, most humanities professors conduct research too so it never hurts to reach out and ask! At worst they’ll say no, and at best they can direct you to a colleague who does do research.

I’ve put a template of my cold emails for research below, but again this should only be a guide. Do tweak it to fit your needs best!


Dear Professor XXX,

I hope this email finds you well! I am reaching out because I came across [SENTENCE ABOUT RESEARCH/PUBLICATIONS THEY CONDUCT]. Furthermore, I found your research into [SENTENCE ABOUT PUBLICATION/RESEARCH YOU READ] to be extremely interesting.  For background, I am a [GRADE LEVEL] at [HIGH SCHOOL NEARBY] and am intending to major in [PUT INTERESTED MAJOR] and would like to get involved in some economics research. I am hoping to go into [PUT POTENTIAL CAREER PATH + WHY INTEREST]. Hence, your work on [RESEARCH AREA] is especially interesting  to me and I am writing to gain insight into how [SUBJECT] research is conducted.

I would love to arrange a call and discuss your research some more. I would also love to know if you have any available positions as a research assistant for next quarter or this summer.  Of course, given the current circumstances, I completely understand if that is not possible. However, if so I would be extremely delighted to take part in your research and to learn from it. I have some experience working with [RELEVANT EXPERIENCE IF ANY]. Thank you for your time and consideration and I hope you have a great weekend!

Respectfully yours,

XXX

I’ve sent out hundreds of emails like this, and have had a reply rate of about 20% and received 5 different offers! Chances are they will be unpaid, however, if you get lucky you might be able to stumble upon a long-term paid opportunity like I did. The reason why cold emailing works so well is because you’re inquiring about “hidden” positions, so roles which might be empty but haven’t yet made it onto a job board. As a result, you’re the opportunity stumbling into their lap so you won’t have to compete against others to get your resume noticed!

The reason why cold emailing works so well is because you’re inquiring about “hidden” positions, so roles which might be empty but haven’t yet made it onto a job board.

This tactic works for internship and volunteering opportunities as well. For example, I knew I wanted to volunteer for a criminal justice non-profit, so I just looked up local Chicago non-profits and sent an email saying “I’m really interested in helping out!” As a result, this has led to one of the most meaningful experiences that I pursue. Chances are, most nonprofits will let you volunteer because they’re always on the lookout for more volunteers regardless of age. The key thing to remember is to just always express your interest in the role and how you could be a valuable asset to the team, despite your young age!   

2.  But it’ll be even better if you warm it up

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However, to get an ever better response rate, ask around to those who know you first! Whether it be friends, family members, etc. For example, my brother got his first internship from a family friend. So “warm” connections will definitely give you a better response rate due to the close proximity. If you live in an area with not many people, cast as wide a net as possible. Ask friends if they have friends of friends who may help you out, ask teachers if they have any friends of friends to help you out. Shoot a message to great-aunt-twice-removed Carrol if she knows of any opportunities which align with your interest.

Anyone has the potential to be successful, it’s just a matter of how much you put in.

3. Colleges love it too!

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Reach out to alumni from your high school who go to the colleges you’re applying to.

If you’re applying to college right now, and it’s too late to develop any more meaningful extra curriculars, it doesn’t matter. Networking is still a great tool. Reach out to alumni from your high school who go to the colleges you’re applying to. DM them on social media asking to chat or what not. Again to reiterate, everyone wants you to succeed and people are a lot nicer than you give them credit for. Even though they don’t have any sway on the decision process, they can give you first-hand experiences about college life which will save you a LOT of time in research. This will allow you to write a banging why XX essay. Also, a big thing as well is it gives you a lot more first-hand information to let you decide if you actually want to apply to that school and if you’ll be happy there which is usually difficult to decide from the schools website and promotional material.

Reach out the admissions officers as well if you really want to get your name out there. When applying for jobs, many people reach out to recruiters to get an idea of company culture and to keep their names in the forefront of the recruiters mind. This applies to college admissions as well. The worst thing they can say is no and they will not reject you if you are respectful when you reach out. The key thing to keep in mind is you are reaching out to learn more about the school not begging them to accept you. If you show that genuine desire and passion to learn more, they’ll appreciate it. This is a great way to show demonstrated interest as well! While questions like “what are your least favorite parts about this school” are better left to students, definitely ask questions about school culture and resources you want to clarify and learn more about. If possible, kindly request if it would be possible to schedule a brief (stress the brief) video call to talk and learn more about the school that way they’ll have a face to the applicant.

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