Networking in middle school

Kathryn Crawford Saxer Career Transition

“Try not to get shot at school today,” I tell my kids every morning as they get on the school bus.

“We’ll try, Mom,” they say. They don’t roll their eyes.

We’re whistling past the graveyard. That’s how I regulate the terror I feel every single morning when my children leave for school. “Please don’t let a copycat try for headlines today. Please let our schoolkids across the country get home to their moms today.”

Besides talking about school shootings and when they can register to vote, we talk about the work they want to do in their lives — and how they’re going to get there. They’re sixth and eighth graders, so maybe it’s a bit early for these conversations.

But I’ve coached college grads who did everything right — earned top grades in high school, did well at great colleges, graduated with (technical, by the way) degrees – yet there they are, in my office trying to figure out how to transition from college.

Maybe it’s not too early to be talking about this.

Invariably, my first questions to these bewildered college graduates are “Who do you know? What are your friends doing?” And when we discover that they own zero relationships with professional adults, I resort to “Who are your parents? Whom do they know?”

Maybe it’s not too early for my eighth grader to be thinking about building his own professional relationships.

“Dude, you’re a TA in your school’s front office,” I tell him as he starts rolling his eyes. “This is your first experience working for adults. You’ve learned how to answer the phone (thank you!), you run errands, you do projects for them.

“The work skills are certainly important, but the warm relationships you’ve built there could be very important,” I explain pedantically. “Say Mrs. Smith in the front office is friends with someone who works with the brother –”

“Who has a friend with a rabbit whose cousin could introduce me,” my son says with exasperation. “I know, Mom.”

A kid can’t open a LinkedIn account and profile until he/she is 16. But she can use a spreadsheet and, say, write a holiday card every year to purposefully build and maintain a network of adult professionals from her summer jobs, internships and volunteer hours.

Once that teenager graduates and is looking around, bewildered, for what’s next, she can call on that network of adults whom she has worked with, who like her, and who are willing to introduce her – and advocate for her – to their own networks.

And she heads off into the first steps of a career that she started building in middle school — when she got  home safely to her mom.

First published in The Seattle Times. Read my archive of Seattle Times Explore columns.