“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” This common expression is the basis for understanding the importance of networking as a strategy for career development and exploration. Everyone has a network, even if you don’t realize it, and when it comes to job searching, this network may be just as important as your skills and experience. A personal network is that group of people with whom you interact every day – family, friends, parents of friends, friends of friends, neighbors, teachers, bosses, and co-workers. With these people, information and experiences are exchanged for both social and potential professional reasons. Networking occurs every time you participate in a school or social event, volunteer in the community, visit with members of your religious group, talk with neighbors, strike up a conversation with someone at the store, or connect with friends online.

When networking for the purpose of career development, this means talking with friends, family members, and acquaintances about your goals, your interests, and your dreams. Most people actually learn about job openings through friends, relatives, or others who are part of their personal network, and because each person in your network has a network of his or her own, your potential contacts can grow exponentially. This is important because more often than not, hiring managers would rather talk to a potential candidate who has been recommended by someone they know or already employ. Even if a position is not currently available, networking can lead to informational interviews that can help you not only learn about possible career paths but also be great exposure for you to be thought of as a potential candidate when a job opens up. An informational interview is not the same as a job interview by any means, but it is probably the most effective form of networking there is. In fact, according to Quintessential Careers, one out of every 12 informational interviews results in a job offer. This is a remarkable number considering the fact that research indicates that only one in every 200 resumes (some studies put the number even higher) results in a job offer.

Though networking is an important skill and one that can certainly be taught, it rarely is. Therefore the activities in this section focus on the process of networking and its relevance and importance to career development. Participants will learn about taking initiative and overcoming fear (which is quite common), informational interviewing, as well as potential guidelines to consider when using social networks, texting, and email for networking purposes.

Developing networking skills is important for all youth, but particularly for those with limited work experiences, which is unfortunately often the case for youth with disabilities. By creating opportunities whereby young people can research, talk to, and network with those working in careers of interest, the more likely they will be able to make informed choices regarding their future. For youth who are hesitant to network or take the steps necessary to arrange informational interviews (for any reason), consider using pairs of two for many of the activities in this section. Teaming is one strategy that may help participants feel as if they have the support they need while trying out new skills and learning how to become a strategic and “seasoned” networker.

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