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You’re Never Too Young to Network

stock_handshakeWhether she knows it or not, Patricia Schwarz—a senior in high school—is an expert networker.

Schwarz has proven that you don’t have to be a senior business executive to know how get out there and meet people. By joining important groups at school, volunteering in her community, working summer jobs, and taking on an internship her senior year, Schwarz has already laid the groundwork for an expansive network that is likely to support her for a long time to come.

And all she’s really done is pursue activities that already interest her. “Networking has never been my first consideration in choosing the activities I’ve been involved in,” she says. “Rather, I just pick activities I think I would enjoy and can make a contribution to.”

As a biracial student, Schwarz became involved in the Diversity Group at her school, an organization that seeks to resolve conflicts and bridge cultural divides. She spoke in front of the student body about an episode where she had suffered discrimination; and through her speech, she helped others to understand how prejudice rears its ugly head. By standing up for her beliefs and speaking out, she has surely become more visible to her peers and school administrators.

Schwarz is also chairman of the teen committee on her town’s Youth Commission, a group of adults and teenagers who meet monthly to discuss issues of concern to the community like drug use and vandalism. She leads the youth group discussion and liaisons with the adults. “We’re currently working on setting a date for the 8th graders to hear from older kids about bullying,” she says of the group’s ongoing work.

Each summer, Schwarz has added to her skills and experience bank—and her universe of contacts—by taking on different jobs, both volunteer and paying. One summer she volunteered for the Boys and Girls Club, and another she worked for a program that made home repairs in poor urban areas. Last summer she interned at a marketing firm. Her experience helping with marketing research tasks for clients will go a long way toward making her an attractive candidate for her next job, in addition to giving her a meaningful reference to include on her resume—someone who is familiar with her capabilities and work style.

“Right now I log cases in a constituency office,” she says. “And I research issues and talk to voters.” As part of her high school’s internship program, she’ll spend the last six weeks of her senior year working nearly full-time for the U.S. congressman, gaining valuable insight into the workings of a political office. “Internships aren’t required at my school, but I figured since teachers don’t load seniors with too much work at the end of the year, it would be a good use of my time to do an intensive internship.”

That kind of initiative is what led Schwarz to Forté. After reading an article in the New York Times about a woman who was involved in the foundation, she picked up the phone and contacted Forté’s marketing director to see how she could participate. Schwarz ended up attending a Forté conference in New York City and has volunteered to help organize a forum in her school district through which high school girls can learn about careers in business.

Schwarz will be a business student and plans to continue working with Forté as she embarks on her career journey.

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