July 14, 2011

The Social Medium: 5 Critical Mistakes Students Make Networking

1) Stop selling. Start showing.

I recently went to an industry networking event, my first one in quite some time, and further removed from my student days. Being early summer, there were a ton of recently graduated and senior university students. I noticed they were mostly awful at networking so I decided to write this article.

These students were so green. It was clear they had a mission to network―hard and fast. They kept  selling themselves with little substance. Let's face it, most students have little to offer that's distinct from other students besides, hopefully, a healthy enthusiasm and personal rapport (both of which go a long way). Instead of awkwardly selling your ambitions, show yourself to be personable and make a connection. The students I observed and talked to were trying to sell themselves instead of showing who they were.

2) Don't be so damn eager.

When I showed up half an hour after the event started, the venue was jam-packed with mostly very young, eager students who started introducing themselves to everyone immediately. It was like a swarm. Most of the conversations were fast, bland, generic, unmemorable, and awkward. Don't be so quick to exchange business cards and move on. En masse, all the students left at the same time after "working the room". The rest of us sat down, had food, chatted, having a fairly good, relaxed time.

Another thing, when it comes to business cards, keep it simple. Student cards can be a tricky, perilous thing. First, make sure you have a URL on it that features your work, credentials, or portfolio. I understand everyone young thinks they are "special" and wants to stand out, but let your actual work set yourself apart.

Do not put buzz words or industry jargon on them like "Enthusiastic, Passionate, Marketing", etc. It looks amateurish. No photo of yourself and don't be too cute. And don't put "aspiring" in your title. It just reminds me you're not qualified yet. And frankly, it's tacky.

3) Play it cool about jobs.

It was obvious, lots of these students were looking for work. You could smell it. They were not subtle at all. Networking and relationship building is a long-term investment. There's a good chance you will never get a job from pure networking. However, you can find success looking for work by making connections and building a rolodex of valuable industry contacts.

It's obvious when all you care about is getting a job. It's transparent, insulting, and a huge turn off. You should be there to meet other interesting people. These are real people with feelings, not job factories. Getting a good job, is much more than a two-step process. There are no shortcuts. You just met this person. It's going to take a lot before they will lead you to a job. Ask about future and potential opportunities and advice on career advancement.

4) Relax, have fun.

Be yourself. Talk genuinely and passionately about your interests, ambitions, and career path. More than likely nothing will come of your interactions, but you never know, you may impress someone. This will only happen if you're memorable and personable.

The people who have gotten me work or helped me in my career (and vice versa), I consider my friends now. They like me. I like them. Make friends and not business contacts. Interesting, likeable people naturally stand out, regardless of who they are or what they do.

5) Network consistently, not frequently.

If you make one significant connection per event, consider it a success. Follow up, casually. So many students want to meet everyone in the room and then leave as soon as their mission is "accomplished". It's not a meat market. These are professionals who are busy and are making time to give back and build their industry community.

One good connection trumps an infinite amount of meaningless ones. I am not a tool. Everyone is always on the hunt for good, young talent. People can identify talent easily and will find ways to encourage them. As a student, you need to be humble and professional.

Bonus Tip:

DO NOT friend request a business professional you have barely or never met on Facebook or send them a personal message. If they give you their contact info or business card, email them or use the other listed methods of contact.

Facebook is for "friends". If you have mutuals friends or made a genuine connection, fair enough. But I cannot tell you how many times students have sight unseen searched for and messaged my personal account I intentionally don't list on my contact page or business card. Facebook messages are not professional. Stick to email. I swear some students only know how to communicate through Facebook.

Photo | Mark Montgomery

7 reactions:

Rick Chung said...

I agree with your points, but the main problem that needs to be addressed is how extremely difficult it is to find a career in Vancouver. Due to this problem, everyone is networking like a wild animal.

Rick Chung said...

I interviewed a co-op student for a position with my company and when asked why I should hire her, she responded, "UM, because I'm awesome?!". Not quite, dear.

Rick Chung said...

I disagree. I work in a very difficult industry to get into and by working hard and facilitating the right relationships, I have excelled. The tools are out there to help you, but not enough students are willing to put in the time or hard work before success.

Rick Chung said...

Oh dear! Awful. Modesty and being humble go a long way.

Rick Chung said...

Well said Rick Chung.

Rick Chung said...

I have said this, but only after she went from saying "if you get the job" to "when you start next week.." and had to finish off the list of questions for HR purposes. :P

Rick Chung said...

I have not graduated yet but I have been volunteering like mad for at least 3 years. I'm not volunteering to get the hours but because I'm genuinely interested in the events and organizations I help out with (Fringe Festival, Cheaper Show, different art galleries). Vancouver is so small that many times the people I know will overlap and they will begin transitioning from "that person I talked to that one time" to acquaintances and even friends.  Networking shouldn't be about how many business cards you've handed out, but how potential employers, co-workers or collaborators will perceive you. I definitely have to work on perfecting my networking skills because I don't want to make the mistakes you mention here. One of the worst insults somebody can throw at you is saying "You're so lucky" when you tell them that you're interning, working, and going to school full-time. It's not luck, it's  me working my butt off and not expecting a career to be handed to me the minute I graduate university.

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