Whether you see hyper-connectedness as a good or a bad thing, we millennials have a reputation for it. We’re known for our love of Instagram (or, for some of us, Pigstagram), our tendency to check email before we’re even out of bed in the morning, and our general resistance to the idea of unplugging from social media for any extended period of time. While some of these behaviors have earned us a bad name among other generations, we also know that being connected has the capacity to propel us forward in important, positive ways. As the world gets smaller — so small, in fact, that it can fit into a handheld device — we can more easily learn about others, take action to solve problems, and access opportunities that will help us advance in our work. That doesn’t sound so bad! Maybe the haters have it all wrong. Right?

A woman uses a smartphone at her desk

Not exactly right. Although millennials’ love for all things social media should mean that we are more proactive about networking than any other generation, recent data from LinkedIn suggests that’s not quite the case. Earlier this year, the site surveyed nearly 16,000 users from 17 countries. Nearly half of the respondents were between the ages of 18 and 34 — AKA millennials. That millennial set reported greater barriers to networking, with nearly half saying they were unsure of how to connect with other professionals (compared to only about a quarter of people 45 and older), and again about half saying they don’t know what to say once a connection has been made (compared to just under a third of people 45 and older). And while 55 percent of millennials say they do reach out to their personal network when seeking a new job opportunity, nearly half don’t — which seems a little crazy when you consider just how important being connected seems to be in so many other areas of our lives.

“Since millennials are often considered incredibly tech-savvy and digitally adept, it was surprising to see that this connected generation is finding it challenging to connect with one another, especially given how they universally acknowledged the benefits of doing so for their careers,” says LinkedIn careers expert Blair Decembrele. Although these results are somewhat disappointing, Decembrele assures us that not all hope is lost! Networking skills are built over time and practice, and as millennials rise to leadership positions, they should expect to feel more comfortable reaching out to others for professional feedback and support — and to learn strategies for doing so on social media, unlike any other generation that came before. Since millennials will soon make up more than half of the American workforce, this shift could happen even sooner than we think.

Two professionals have a discussion

In the meantime, though, Decembrele advises networking-phobic millennials to do one thing: Practice! “The best way to be comfortable with networking is to get out there and do it,” she encourages. “A quick hello to an old boss, former classmate, or even a professional who has your dream job can make a huge difference in your career and help you find your way in. You’ll be surprised how happy most people are to help!” Making good use of the existing features of your favorite social media platforms (and, no, we’re not talking about Instagram stories) is another great way to beef up your networking skills. LinkedIn, for example, recently introduced an updated messaging experience intended to help you figure out who can help you get the “in” you’re looking for. Knowing you’re in touch with the right person may make you feel more comfortable as you reach out to a new contact — and bucking up your confidence will likely pay off. According to Decembrele, 70 percent of people of all ages have at some point been hired by a company where they had an existing connection.

“Don’t be afraid!” she reassures us. “Every successful professional understands the importance of networking, and nearly everyone has reached out to a friend or colleague at some point for help with their career.”

Do you have any tips for professional networking? Tweet us @BritandCo!

(Photos via Getty)