It’s hardly news that, when it comes to pursuing growth in your career, it’s often about who you know. You’ve been hearing that ever since you applied for your first job! Like it or not, networks count, and when you have a friend — or a friend of a friend — who can put in a good word for you with a potential employer, or help educate you about an industry that you’d like to work in, the often infuriating process of finding a jobdoes get easier.

Smiling businesswomen having business meeting.

But if you’re feeling frustrated by the scant size of your own professional network, take a beat. Twenty- and thirty-somethings actually tend to have big networks, and it’s entirely possible that you’re underestimating your own. There is strength in numbers, and millennials in the working world definitely have those on their side. According to LinkedIn career expert Blair Decembrele, millennials are already the largest generation in the workforce, making up more than one-third of today’s employees. By 2020, they’ll grow to represent a full 50 percent. That information should give you at least some reassurance about your potential network. After all, almost anyone you’ve ever met — on your high school soccer team, in your sorority, at the ice cream shop where you worked in the summertime, in yoga class — is likely to be part of that millennial workforce, which technically makes them a contact.

The question, then, seems to be one of how we actually understand and tap into those contacts. Per LinkedIn research, 71 percent of millennials agree that networking is valuable professionally… but 43 percent find it challenging to stay in touch with their network and 35 percent say they are often afraid to ask for help. “So what’s holding them back?” Decembrele says. “For all their perceived social prowess on and offline, their biggest challenges were not knowing what to say and uncertainty around how to get in touch.” Take the time now to consider your contacts. What fields are they in? What unique skills do they have on lock? Do their professional journeys mirror what you envision for yourself?

“Assessing your network to ensure there are professionals within your desired field and employees at specific companies you admire, as well as past colleagues, will create a rich network ripe for advice and help,” Decembrele tells us. “And don’t forget your current workplace friends. They could be your biggest ally, and it’s a professional relationship you’re already building every day.”

Becoming a more active participant in your network — in a way that may reap career growth down the road — doesn’t have to be scary. Start by touching base with people who you haven’t spoken with in a while. Drop them an email, refreshing their memory of when and where you met. Make a connection with them (a shared alma mater, a friend in common, etc.). Look for opportunities to congratulate them on new jobs or professional anniversaries. That can be a great window to reconnect!

As you begin to cultivate those relationships, the conversations and interactions don’t need to be formal in order to be fruitful or productive. In fact, according to LinkedIn, 56 percent of millennials were introduced to a new job through a casual discussion.

“Networking doesn’t have to mean sitting down for lunch,” Decembrele says. “Fifty-nine percent of millennials prefer non-traditional networking — like meeting at a workout class or over manicures — to formal meetings. Not only is this approach more time-efficient, it feels more natural and less forced, and you’re more likely to build a better relationship.”

So grab a friend (because that’s totally cool for informal networking too) and schedule a manicure or boxing class with a fellow powerhouse millennial professional… or five. Your network is there, ready for you to explore.

Do you feel confident about your professional network? Tweet us @BritandCo!

(Photo via Getty)