Make Small Talk, Expand Your Network!

One of our biggest events every fall is So You Think You Can Network.  This gives current students an opportunity to network with professionals and recent alumni. It is a chance for students to practice dressing professionally, use their elevator speech, and establish connections both in and out of their anticipated field. While the majority of our students walk away from the event feeling more confident about themselves, it is usually a huge source of stress before the event kicks off.  One of the most common questions we get beforehand is simply “how do I network?” Students don’t realize that they network all the time with their friends, family, community members, and faculty, simply by communicating with them on a professional level.

Our friends at the Culture and Manners Institute (http://www.cultureandmanners.com/) recently shared a wonderful anecdote about what networking means, and how important conversational skills are while job searching.

“The Etiquette Tip of the Week is a little late this week, as I am just returning from a trip to Japan.  On the way home, on an airplane between Baltimore and Chicago, I sat next to a gentleman in commercial real estate. I asked him what he looked for in job candidates right out of college.’ The main thing I want to know,’ he said, ‘is can they carry on a conversation?’  This is important he explained, because they have to be able to communicate with clients. He said he looks for eye contact, whether they researched the company, if they showed an interest in the company by asking him questions and if they can do all of this without checking or answering their cell phone. Practice your conversation skills.  Strike up a conversation with people around you while you are waiting in line, riding an elevator, waiting for a train or bus, or flying on an airplane. Dive into business networking events offered by your local chamber of commerce or your college alumni organization. Being a good conversationalist is simple: ask questions of the other person.  My conversation with the gentleman on the airplane began with some small talk about air travel.  He said he travels a great deal for work.  So I asked, ‘What do you do for a living?’ Some people will be very easy to talk to, while others will be like talking to a brick wall.  Don’t be discouraged, because it is good experience and part of your process.  The other benefit is you meet some interesting people and sometimes make a good business connection.”

We urge you to take advantage of any opportunity you can to improve your communication skills and feel more confident in your ability to network.  Force yourself to go for an afternoon without even checking your cell phone.  Take time to ask your professors questions during office hours or after class. When you visit a friend’s house, ask their parents about their work and what advice they have for upcoming graduates.  These small gestures will go a long way in helping you present yourself better while networking!

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