By Max Grossman, BA in International Affairs, GWU, 2017
It had already been a long, eventful first day of Career Quest. The Sustainability cohort and I made two site visits–one at 30 Rock and the other at a sustainability consultancy–toured Highline Park, and spent plenty of time walking through Manhattan marveling about our experience. At the end of that long day, we arrived at the Barclay Center for an alumni event before the Colonials took on the Duquesne Dukes when the Career Quest coordinators told us – “Network. Go meet people.”
Network? Meet people? Honestly for me, those four words changed the day’s excitement into the fear one feels on the first day of school. I don’t know any of these people I thought, let alone how to spark a conversation with them. How do I manage to chat casually, build a connection, and not make alumni feel as if I am pressuring them for sage career advice?
These questions, so I think, are normal for undergraduates – especially when networking is not what draws people to an event. I would venture to say that building meaningful relationships with people wearing basketball jerseys and eating hot dogs is much more challenging then when they’re wearing a suit and tie. However, mastering this skill is crucial, as many networking opportunities don’t come wrapped up in a suit and tie.
Thankfully, the alumni reception during Career Quest allowed me test these key personal skills, which I admittedly still need to improve quite a bit. However, after reflecting on my Career Quest experience and others like it, I’ve come up with four tips I think are very useful when given the change to interact with alumni:
# 1 Set a Goal.
A very smart woman once told me that her strategy for these sorts of situations is to set a goal for how many people she wants to talk to. At the alumni reception, I set mine for 10 and reached it!
Setting a target can help keep us from limiting ourselves. In all honestly, after the first two people I talked to at the game, I was ready to go huddle around a table with my fellow GW students and call it a night. But, I know this is a strategy to nowhere. Stopping after only a few chats is effectively throwing away opportunities to meet influential people we may not come across again.
Bottom line: Set goals for the number of people we want to meet, and exceed that goal.
# 2 Find a wingman (or woman).
Casual networking is kind of like dating. There is no business attire, title, or appointment to shield our nervousness or to make people talk to us. Rather it is up to us to approach people. Certainly, this can be really intimidating.
If this is too much, I suggest finding a buddy to help make mingling less intimidating. This way there is less weight on our shoulders to be Mr. or Ms. Sociable if by nature we’re not that way.
** # 3 Have a Business Card. **
I give this one double stars because, even for a college student like myself, having a business card has made following up with people I meet far easier than it was before I had one. Unfortunately people won’t remember me, or you, or the majority of people they talk to. They need something to jog their memory, and exchanging cards is great way to up the chances people remember us when our names pop up in their inbox or LinkedIn later on. Also, if we want someone’s contact info, letting that person scribble an email on your card is a lifesaver if they are without one.
The last thing I’ll say about business cards is that much the way cards help others remember, they also help us if we (like I am sometimes) are forgetful. A card usually has someone’s title and company. This gives a cue to learn a bit more about the person (if the conversation didn’t allow us to already) and make the email we send the next day more relevant with an article or link one that they will appreciate.
# 4 Be confident.
All these little tips aside, the most important part of being sociable is confidence. We all struggle in finding our confidence sometimes – I am far from the exception. However, if we remember how awesome we really are, know that we probably aren’t the only ones who are a overwhelmed by large events, and know that the people we talk to more times that not will be willing to help, then there is nothing fear!
Take my advice. I am far from the networking expert, but I can say that following these tips and others helped me make President Knapp laugh at my jokes!
Applications for the Spring 2016 GW Career Quest are open through November 2nd! You can find more info and apply here!