I smiled when, at a panel to celebrate J Camp's 10th anniversary, the high school students were told that the reception to follow was "not a business-card collecting contest."

I smiled because in previous years, to get these high-potential teens to network with much more -- ahem -- distinguished journalists, there had been prizes for the students with the most cards.

But just as the students in J Camp are growing up, so is J Camp.

J Camp is an annual program, organized and taught by a dedicated core of volunteers, to help high school students become better journalists. It's held a few days before the Asian American Journalists Association convention. This year, both events were in Los Angeles.

The J Camp students were composed and impressive, and they did ask for business cards. I handed out a lot of them.

Two of the students followed up by e-mailing me afterward. I'd say that they understood that business cards are for more than just collecting. Those little rectangles can be the first step in a professional relationship that can lead to mentoring, advice and opportunity.

In my recruiting career, I have handed out thousands of business cards. One person once said something like, "Joe, I already have five of your cards. I have them at home, at work, in my car, on the fridge ..." That was my intention. I always wanted to be easily found for the time when they might be thinking of a new job.

My hope was that people would call the number or send the e-mail. I regarded each little card as a test. Would people follow up on the invitations that business cards represent? I would guess that fewer than five in a hundred ever did.

So learn from the two smart high school journalists at J Camp. When someone hands you a card, follow up. Turn the card into a connection. They are not just for collecting.

Coming Monday: How much time away from the newsroom is too much?

Career questions? E-mail Joe for an answer.