The foundation of my career didn’t start after college. Instead it started with a conversation with a customer at a grocery store checkout counter during high school.
My first job in high school was ringing up customers at the local grocery store, and while it helped me save money, the job in itself didn't contribute much to my college applications. It was the conversations I had with customers - an opportunity to network - that helped me find the next step in my educational journey.
Networking opportunity: Growing up, my parents emphasized the importance of networking but I thought I’d start in college or in the workforce. Instead, my first networking opportunities were the conversations with customers at the store. I developed a rapport with customers, talking about their lives and careers as well as my schoolwork. After having a few conversations with a regular customer about my college goals, he offered his business card and let me know there was a project management role available at his consulting firm. I called the phone number and interviewed with the project manager within a week. She had already heard about my aspirations and felt I was a great fit. I was offered a role as project management assistant at the close of the interview.
Networking takeaway: Part of networking is luck, but the more opportunities you create for yourself, the more likely you are to find that luck. The foundation of my networking success was the interactions with people I wouldn’t have met outside of school or my personal life. An essential part of developing a strong college application is finding extracurricular activities, including part-time jobs, that are interesting to you. Not only do extracurricular opportunities round out your college admissions application, they also offer opportunities to meet people with connections who may be able to help you in the next step of your educational journey.
Networking opportunity: During college I continued to seek internship opportunities to ensure I was set up for success in my future career. Internships were competitive in the California Bay Area and online applications resulted in mostly frustration, but my next opportunity came at a coffee shop. I was studying with a friend there and we were discussing our coursework, when a gentleman at the next table took a phone call on a related subject. After his call ended, I struck up a conversation to ask about his work and learned he was the director of a local nonprofit organization. I mentioned I was looking for internship opportunities and we set up a meeting at the nonprofit the next week to discuss their openings.
In addition to college, I balanced the nonprofit marketing internship with my part-time role at the consulting firm. The knowledge I gained in the internship allowed me to improve the marketing program and research process at the consulting firm, and as a direct result of that work I received a promotion to project manager at the firm after my college graduation.
Networking takeaway: It is always worthwhile to keep your eyes open for new resources. It's also important to have a manageable and flexible schedule. As you find new opportunities through networking you can fit the opportunities that best suit your goals into your schedule.