On Tuesday, September 16, 2014 Executives on Campus hosted the Job $mart Career Hour entitled, Networking: Building Meaningful Relationships. The event was geared towards sharpening student’s skills for On Campus Recruiting (OCR). The panel consisted of Sean O’Rourke and Stephen Goldberg. Sean O’Rourke is the CEO of Syzygy 3, Inc. a company that serves as an outsourced IT department for small businesses. Stephen Goldberg is a Baruch Alumni, who is the Executive Vice President of WAYN.com. Stephen received his MBA from Baruch College. Prior to his MBA, he worked as a tour guide for NBC, which allowed him to network with many individuals, especially NBC senior executives. By being outgoing an un-shy, Stephen was able to knock on the doors of NBC senior executives, network with them, and move his career forward.
To kick-off the event, the panelists were asked to define what networking both is and isn’t. Sean began by explaining that networking changes in every scenario, and it isn’t necessarily an opportunity to seek out business or find a job. Instead, it enables one to build relationships with people whom they can later contact and say “Hi, I’m looking for a job” or “I’ve come across a job opportunity do you know someone at that firm?” He then stated that people hire those they like or think they can work best with. Stephen agreed with Sean’s comment and pushed the notion, that it comes down to getting along with people; it’s about chemistry and asking oneself “Will I get along with this person?” This is typically the reason why interview candidates meet with four or five individuals on an interview. He then gave the suggestion that if one does decide to inquire for a position while networking, they should have a conversation first, and in the course of it lead into the question “Do you know if your firm is hiring?”
Next, the panelists were asked, “How do we break the ice while networking?” This is because it can be daunting to approach someone we do not know and strike up a conversation; thus how can we make it less stressful? Stephen suggested having an informal conversation; possibly thinking about it as sitting down for coffee and just chatting. He then added that networking and finding a job are the hardest jobs one will ever have. Once one gets into the rhythm and gains momentum and confidence, the process will be easier and seamless. Sean pointed out that networking is stressful because one has to engage with unfamiliar people, and oftentimes one may simply not feel like doing so. However, he suggested that one should always treat networking as a job. If networking isn’t inherent to one’s personality, they should practice and find ways to take the edge off (i.e. hold drinks in their hands). It’s also important to have a good handshake because this is the first indication of one’s confidence to the person they are meeting.
The panelists then addressed an issue that perhaps most students struggle with: “What can a student with limited professional experience talk about while networking?” Stephen replied by stating that the Internet is a game changer and one should do their homework. He recommended using LinkedIn to research individuals on such issues as where they went to school, and shared connections. He then shared a trick learned from his father: Perform a quick scan of one’s physical environment while networking, and find something that could trigger a common denominator to use in the conversation. Sean reiterated Stephen’s comment that one needs to do their research on the Internet. His suggestion for those faced with generic networking environments, was to ask questions and listen to the answers, thus gauging the interests of the person one is involved in a conversation with. Such engagement and listening is usually looked favorably upon.
The last question was: “In terms of conversation, what is appropriate and on the reverse side, inappropriate?” Sean immediately suggested staying away from politics and religion, unless one is applying for a political job. He suggested knowing “Who won last night’s game,” as knowing cursory information on sports, will allow one to make connections. His suggestion for women or men that do not like sports was to not fake it, “know what you know,” as one can also talk about movies, music, or television. To reinforce this, he said that the point is to ask questions, find common ground, and engage, as one can only fake it for so long. Stephen agreed that most conversations begin with sports talk and then transition into business talk. Further, he pointed out that the sports talk doesn’t necessarily have to be football, basketball, or baseball, but can be about any sport, such as the US Open.
The floor was then opened for student questions.
Question: The first interaction in networking situations can be easy. But keeping up the relationship is what becomes challenging. How does one follow up after they’ve made the initial contact?
Sean suggested following up via e-mail, wherein one puts out a call to action, and suggests meeting for coffee or scheduling a phone call. In being specific and giving the person fewer choices, one gives him/her less opportunity to “blow one off.” He advised being persistent, without being annoying. Stephen then commented that persistence is the name of the game, and one should follow up continuously and nicely. Both panelists then noted to be careful what one writes in e-mails, as e-mails confer no tone or attitude. Sean stressed not inserting jokes in e-mails, and thinking about every word and line written, as words are incredibly powerful. Other e-mail tips offered, included keeping the e-mail concise, as less is more, and using understandable words people use on a daily basis.
Zicklin Graduate Accounting Society Board member Derek Berezdivin, Vice President of Communications, then asked “Many on-campus events are networking events, where one has very little time to get information. What would you recommend we say to a hiring manager?” To this, Stephen reiterated how important it is to do one’s homework, and thus have facts when speaking to professionals. Sean then added an interesting spin on this, by pointing out that conversational differences could be based upon where one is standing on the line to speak to professionals or recruiters. If one is first, this is great, but “What happens when one is the 500th person in line?” If one is at the end of the line, once they reach the front, they should acknowledge the professional’s or recruiter’s efforts by saying something along the lines of “I know you’re exhausted...” or “I don’t want to take up any more of your time...” Additionally, Sean encouraged trying to stand out, by things as one’s elevator pitch. Both panelists then encouraged having elevator pitches down cold, as the more practice one has, the more natural they become in its delivery. Sean then suggested incorporating the person one is speaking to into their pitch.
Sean and Stephen then provided important closing remarks to be mindful of when perfecting one’s networking skills:
• “It’s not about you, but what can you do for this person/company; meaning how can you help them.”
• Sean advised against including “I need, I like, or I want” in cover letters. A cover letter should address how one can help the company.
• Ask the professional or recruiter one is networking with how he/she got to their current position. Always remember, at one point or another, the professional or recruiter was in your shoes.
• Connect with the professionals or recruiter on LinkedIn.
• Send thank you notes.
• Always practice!
ZGAS hopes this was helpful and we wish you the best of luck with OCR!