My friends and I were sitting in a local bar the other night, coming up with a list of words that make us nauseous — you know, pretty much any language associated with gross bodily functions.
But there is another word, one that I dare not bring up in a casual social setting, that also turns my stomach inside out when I hear it mentioned.
All jokes aside, networking— making valuable connections with mentors, potential employers, and people who can help you branch out to others— is necessary for every student in any major. Yes, the idea of introducing yourself and stating your merit to a complete stranger is nerve-wracking. But when Arcadia’s Office of Career Education tells you that 70% of jobs are made through networking, you know it’s important.
Luckily, Career Education doesn’t just throw that scary percentage at you and say “Have fun with it, kid.” I recently had the opportunity to attend their Knights Networking Series: Media, Marketing and Communications Night, where I practiced pitching my skills and experience to several potential employers. The event was so successful, I even received a few internship offers!
I learned a few things, too: you don’t just show up and talk about yourself, preparation matters, and confidence is key. Here are a few tips in case you decide to attend a networking event.
Make business cards.
There’s something about a business card that sets a college student apart from the rest. It’s low-key impressive, and shows that you care about professionalism. Your personal business card should stand out and reflect your personality or design aesthetic, so I created my own (thank you kindly, graphic-design minor). Don’t, however, load them with a dizzying array of fonts and silly clip art, and be sure your contact information is up-to-date. If you’re not artistically inclined, sites like Vistaprint offer a variety of templates that fall within a college student’s budget.
Bring copies of your résumé.
After registering for a Knight Networking Series, the Office of Career Education emails an electronic copy of your résumé to the visiting employers. Still, you can’t count on busy people reviewing them or remembering you. I ended up handing out all of my copies, which communicated the skills and experiences that I didn’t have time to explain during a few minutes of conversation, and guaranteed that the employers would at least glance at what I had to offer. Several of the connections I made appreciated this extra effort and even read my résumé on the spot.
Dress to impress.
One of the social-media managers I talked to kicked off the conversation with, “I love your dress, I’ve been looking for one just like that to wear at the office.” It was not only a confidence boost, but an acknowledgment that I would fit in the professional vibe of her company. With first impressions being so important at events like these, checking off the “dress to impress” to-do should be a priority. I chose to wear a simple black sheath dress with a few bright pattern details that reflected my style without being too flashy. This is important: stay true to your fashion preferences, but keep it business-appropriate so that the focus is placed on what you say, not how you look. When in doubt, Google “business casual” before diving into your closet (or mountain of laundry).
Research the companies ahead of time.
Not sure what Company X does/sells? Look it up. This will help you in your networking conversations (see Tip #5) and in deciding which employers you want to approach. At the beginning of the Knight Networking events, employers will do a fast-pitch of their company: who they are, what they do, what they’re looking for. But to make sure that you don’t waste anyone’s time (including yours), it’s best to narrow down the companies ahead of time. Figure out if your career plans align with their job opportunities before you start printing out 50 cover letters.
Come up with a few questions in advance.
Career Education lays out a few sample questions on the tables — ”What advice would you give to a student looking to work in this field?” or “What are your responsibilities at Company X?” — in case you get stuck. While this is a nice gesture, reading off of these cards looks awkward and makes the candidate seem unprepared. Fortunately, I’d thought of questions beforehand that I would elicit responses unique to each company. For example, I love to ask, “What do you like most about working at your company?” It provokes honest answers that can tell you if said company is right for you.
While it may not seem like the most fun way to spend your night, a networking event is something that employers, advisors, professors, and I highly recommend. You’ll leave feeling confident, ready to take on the real world, and one step closer to employment. And the more you do it, the less you’ll think of “networking” as a nauseating word.
Photo: Dell, Inc.