Graduation season is upon us, and as such, there has been a slew of reporting on the not-so-friendly job market for the class of 2011. And for those newly minted PR professionals who have managed to land their first jobs right after commencement, a steady stream of advice on how to enter the profession and perform like a pro has been published this month. This advice ranges from ideas on how to dress on your first day (more complicated than it used to be!), to how to get the boss’s attention in that critical pitch meeting. If I had one piece of advice to give to young people entering the workplace it would be to never stop networking.

Some of us seasoned PR folks should also take heed of this, since you never know when you will be looking for a new gig, either by choice or necessity. But networking just to secure a job misses an entire spectrum of opportunities to learn the tools of the trade from people who have been at it for years and have wisdom to share. Networking has enabled me to bounce ideas off of fellow PR professionals and to get feedback outside of the confines of the office. When social media began to take off as an essential aspect of what we do, getting together, both online and in-person with PR networking associations was a way for each of us to educate ourselves as to best practices, and to suss out the value of the cavalcade of new sites that seemed to pop up daily.

Online networking through LinkedIn, for example, has been a wonderful opportunity to “meet” people in the profession, and to engage in conversations about relevant topics. But it’s been even more satisfying to then get the chance to meet up at in-person gatherings. Face-to-face contact is still essential in our business. The prevalence of electronic communications is ubiquitous, but relationships are built in person, and the value of this type of interaction cannot be overstated.

So whether you are a young grad, lucky enough to have a salary starting June 1st, or are a not-so-young PR pro, make networking, both online and in-person part of how you conduct business. The relationships you’ll build will be helpful and meaningful in any and every phase of your career.