Today I attended my first formal networking event post-college. That means there was no comfort in knowing a handful of my peers were talking to recruiters right beside me. I was putting myself out there all on my own in a room full of at least 70 local business men and women. Some were recruiters, some job seekers with substantial experience. Others were there simply to build a network and pitch a business concept or product.
As we went around the table stating our name and 30 second elevator pitch, I didn’t feel that far from the classrooms in Lillis or Allen Hall at the University of Oregon. In many classes, students are given the opportunity to practice delivering this type of personal marketing message. Much like in the classroom atmosphere, I noticed a mix of confident, relaxed speakers, those quiet types who fail to make eye contact, and those who have scripts on a notepad which they look down and read after each sentence. Basically networking in the real world is the same as doing it on a college campus. The major difference is you must find the opportunities to mingle on your own, and you may find you are the youngest person in the room. I introduced myself as a recent college graduate to a room full of 30-50 somethings. Was I nervous? Not really. Luckily, I found my experience relevant and my ability to present myself was on par with 95% of the professionals in the room. After being randomly selected as the person with the opportunity to stand up and speak further about my qualifications and what I was looking for, I was pleasantly surprised at the responses I received.
One women complimented my tie and another told me I did a great job speaking. Apparently, the lucky guy who presented himself last time was caught off guard and couldn’t deliver his message effectively. I was told I carried myself well, and that I didn’t look like a recent graduate. I showed confidence and gave the professional appearance of someone with years of corporate experience. My advice to college seniors and other recent graduates is to put yourself out there. You hear it a lot, but networking really is more effective than submitting your resume behind the protection of a computer screen. A contact card and LinkedIn account only benefits you if you find people to go talk with.
One very articulate speaker I had a conversation with provided me incredibly useful feedback. He pointed out the weaknesses in my ability to answer interview type questions with confidence. Words like “maybe” and “perhaps,” he advised, take away from the overall impression that my professional attitude and personality bring. He then offered to connect me with someone who might be willing to hold an informational interview in an industry I am interested in learning more about. When career centers tell you to network, this is what they are talking about. If given the chance, people will offer assistance to those they feel deserve it.
As for the rest of my day, I am following up with people I spoke with and connecting on LinkedIn. I have the feeling this experience will open a few new doors in my job search and get me talking to the right people.