I was at an alumni picnic recently where I met two recent college grads. One was clerking with a law firm for the summer before heading into his third year of law school, while the other was looking for a job. Meeting them reminded me how little recent college grads understand about networking.
Neither one ever asked me what I did, or what my connection to the school was, or whether I might keep them in mind if I heard of appropriate opportunities, or whether I had any advice for them in their job hunt/new legal career. They never asked for my card or volunteered to stay in touch. Here they were sitting with a career counselor and former lawyer, but they didn't even know it because making small talk with them was like pulling teeth. If they were showing up just to score some free food, they really blew an opportunity.
One of the things I've learned over the years is that you never know where a great career opportunity is going to come from — often, the best ones can be traced back through several degrees of separation. Some of my best career moves resulted from a chance encounter at a conference or a friend who called to say, "Hey, I just had drinks/shot some hoops/went to the movies with an acquaintance who said so-and-so is hiring — aren't you looking?" So the next time you're at an alumni picnic or meeting your dad's new golfing buddy or are bored out of your mind at your cousin's wedding, use those opportunities to make new connections with people. They might not come in handy now, and many never will, but one of them might be just what you need two or five or ten years from now.