I had a "VirtuaLatte" with an aspiring marketer earlier this week.
She's only a first-year student, and won't finish her studies for another few years, but she's already very active on LinkedIn: seeking out people whose careers she might like to emulate, and sending them messages asking if they would be willing to connect.
During our conversation, she asked several thoughtful questions. She wanted to know about my work experiences, and how I made decisions to join and leave companies throughout my career. She asked whether I had any mentors (I have several!) and how I had gone about finding them. She wanted to know what she might do today to set herself up for success in the future after she had finished school.
She didn't ask me to help her find a job, but that makes sense: she has three years of school left and doesn't need to worry about that right now.
Instead, she focused on building an authentic connection and making a positive impression. She succeeded, and when she asked if we could stay in touch, I agreed immediately.
I have no way of knowing this for certain, but I strongly suspect I haven't seen or heard the last of this student. Now that we're connected on LinkedIn, I wouldn't be surprised if she likes, comments upon, and shares my posts from time to time. And I have no doubt whatsoever she'll reach out in a few months and ask for another VirtuaLatte... a request I'm very likely to grant.
The very best time to build your network is before you need anything from your network.
The second best time is right now.