You Can Do a Lot of Networking Just by Talking to People

By Keith Davis

About 60 students showed up for “Networking 101” on Friday afternoon, October 9, to hear an alumni panel give tips on how to find job leads. Selecting a student from the audience at random, John Bradac, director of career services, asked, “If someone asked you what you wanted to be more than anything else, what would you tell them?”

“I’d want to be the CEO of Google,” the student said.

Bradac put the same question to another student, who replied, “I’d want to be a classroom teacher.”

“Anyone here know anyone from Google?” Bradac asked. Molly McElroy Israel ’05, one of the alumni panelists, raised her hand.

“Anyone know any classroom teachers?” asked Bradac.

About a dozen hands went up.

“There you have it,” Bradac said. “You’ve just networked. By asking the people sitting next to you if they know anybody in the business in which you’d like to work, you’ve made the connections you need to make. What was nerve-racking and difficult about that?”

Humorous skits provided prospective job seekers with lessons on how not to make connections—such as speaking with a bagel in your mouth, insisting that Harvard is in Tulsa, and interrupting the conversation to take a cell phone call. The alumni panelists, on the other hand, offered a more positive approach.

“Ask engaging questions,” said Kirk Harbinger ’89, vice president of the New York Wired Group. “It will prompt you to think about things you may not otherwise think about, and it shows the person you’re talking to that you’re engaged.”

“Stay comfortable and relaxed,” said Marc Israel ’05, assistant director in the Office of the Budget at IC.

Deb Mohlenhoff ’92, assistant director for community service and leadership development at IC, recommended attending professional conferences and keeping up with current affairs to make conversations more interesting.

Molly McElroy Israel, a marketer for TIG Global, advised students not to rule out informal venues such as gyms and local clubs as places to make contacts. Formal events, she said, also have a lot of potential. “Don’t overlook the food table. Go there, wait for someone you want to talk to, and then say, ‘My, isn’t this delicious?’ It can be as simple as that.”

The experts agreed on one thing: no matter what question you use to start the conversation, by all means start the conversation.

“Don’t hesitate,” Kirk Harbinger said. “Move right in and say hello. A student did that to me last year at the Senior Class Happy Hour. She was about to graduate and was looking for a job in institutional design. It so happened my firm needed a summer intern in that area. The student was from Albany. My firm is in Albany. We hired her as an intern, and now she’s working for us full-time. If she hadn’t approached me, smiled, and put out her hand, that never would have happened.”

Lynne Pierce, associate director of alumni relations, said that holding this event during Alumni and Homecoming Weekend gives students a chance to recognize the importance of IC’s alumni network. “We plan to do a lot more programming through alumni relations to give students and alumni more opportunities to interact and network,” she said.