A lot of people talk about the importance of networking to land your dream job, which is great. However, not enough people discuss proactively building your network as early as possible, long before you are even thinking about taking your first job. This can have a huge upside. Getting into a good school and landing a great internship, for example, are both much easier with connections in place and will help you land your dream job down the road.
It is important to think about this early, as you are building up your resume and experiences. One place that is perfect for networking, but severely underutilized, is summer camp. Great summer camps should be fun and educational – they are also fantastic at bringing together people with different backgrounds and shared interests. There are few places that offer such a great opportunity to build your network. For the duration of camp, you have the chance to spend all day with a vast and varied group of people, sharing an experience that can bond you together tightly and quickly. As you have fun, learn, and stay together at camp, take an interest in your peers’ career and educational aspirations. Make sure you are listening, asking questions, and aiming to understand them better. Once you pack up and head home, stay in contact and offer advice or assistance to your summer camp friends when you are able.
Why Summer Camp Networking is So Successful
One of the reasons networking at summer camp can be so powerful is that summer camp relationships often last for years after camp has ended. This is especially true in the age of digital media, which makes staying in touch easier. Networking is a never-ending process and it is important that you continue to stay in contact with people in your network - you never know what career path your summer camp friends may take.
Summer Camps generate a great network because people tend to feel a strong connection to camps they have attended. This is incredibly important, because this type of shared experience means that students have access to a very vast network, well beyond the primary connections they may make while they are at summer camp. There are times that you may be able to ask one of your contacts to introduce you to another summer camp alumni they know. However, the shared summer camp experience is typically enough for you to reach out to someone based solely on that association. You can leverage the shared experience of summer camp to expand beyond primary connections; you have a perfect introduction and starting point already established.
Additionally, don’t limit your networking to peers – instructors at these camps can be excellent resources and may be able to assist you with a reference for a job or internship. Developing and building relationships with instructors can also be incredibly helpful because they are a great resource to help you learn more about jobs, internships, and career developments within that job field.
How to Network Successfully at Summer Camp
First off, have fun and be yourself. The best connections will come from naturally and genuinely finding common ground with other people. You don’t need to view people as ‘networking targets’ in order to be successful; we aren’t recommending that you should try to ‘use’ someone – that is not networking. You are trying to forge relationships based on mutual trust and respect. This situation is also different than what people may think of when they think of networking at an industry conference or networking event. Throwing out business cards like candy at a parade is not the best way to grow these relationships.
But…it is okay to bring a business card to summer camp! Even if the summer program you are attending isn’t necessarily business-related, it is absolutely fine to bring a few business cards to distribute. While we are a tech-based society and a cardboard card may seem outdated, there are several benefits: they will tend to make you more memorable, make it easier to share your digital information so that you can connect with others, and also show that you are committed to making connections.
Okay, I made some good friends and connections with peers and instructors…what now? Stay in touch – it’s always good to keep up with your summer classmates and instructors. This doesn’t have to be anything formal or rigid – following them on social media, especially LinkedIn, and checking-in periodically to see how things are going for them is fine. Investing in them and their future university and career path is the best thing you can do. It will also keep you apprised of where they are, what they are up to, and when they may have helpful insight. This will make it easier when you do have a question, need a reference, or just some good advice or knowledge.
How Networking at Summer Camp Expands Career Opportunities
Curating a network of peers and instructors can help expand your career opportunities in so many ways. Here are just a few examples:
- Discovering new career paths – you might see one of your friends taking a really interesting internship that ties in beautifully with your career goals. It’s okay to leverage other people’s experience. It may jump-start your imagination and give you a great idea about what internship or job you may like to pursue.
- Peers may be able to provide information about an industry - Peers that have had the opportunity to work in an industry, internship, or even specific company that you dream about may be able to help discuss things that they love or dislike about working there.
- Close connections may pass along career opportunities that they come across and think would be a good fit for you – even if some of the jobs they pass along aren’t your thing, or you aren’t looking for a new job, they just might pass along a fantastic opportunity that you wouldn’t have otherwise seen.
- Connections may be able to provide a referral or recommendation for an internship or job – if you are pursuing a job at a company where one of your summer camp friends works, this would be an optimal time to see if they are able to provide an internal referral – this is one sure way to get your foot in the door and ensure that your resume is seen and considered.
There are a finite amount of great jobs and internships – you will likely find yourself in a position where you need a ‘leg-up.’ Often, even the best resume may not land you a job if you don’t have any connections at the company. LinkedIn research from 2016 showed that 70% of people had a connection at the company where they were hired. This number actually goes up dramatically when looking at people that have been hired at top companies.
Never underestimate the power of networking at summer camp – if you have built good relationships and they believe in you, people are often willing to go the extra mile to help as much as they are able.
One final note – follow the golden rule. If you do ask someone from your summer camp network for a connection, recommendation, or referral, always be sure to ask for permission beforehand and thank them afterwards (even if they aren’t able to help). Also, and this should go without saying, if a colleague needs assistance, put in the effort and reciprocate to the best of your ability. Networking is a two-way street – sometimes the best way to benefit from networking is to ‘pay it forward’ and build up some karma.