I’ve recently been doing a little networking to test the waters for some potential changes. Networking is really not one of my favorite things, because no matter how far out of school I am I still feel like an annoying 12-year-old whenever I send someone an email. Fortunately, I have a pretty great team on my side and people I’ve been reaching out to lately have been welcoming to my questions and requests.
But going through these recent experiences I can’t help but think back to a particular time that, honestly, still irks me a few years later.
Back in spring of 2011 I was doing what good little college seniors do and trying to make as many connections as I could in my job search. I knew I wanted to be in Indy and I had fallen in love with social media over the course of that school year, so I signed up to go to an Indy Social Media happy hour event. On the day of the event I went to class, went back to my room, put on my business best and drove over an hour from Greencastle to Broad Ripple to hopefully make great connections and pick up some solid info, as well.
I was nervous when I got there because I knew I would be a 22-year-old college kid in a sea of professionals, and my quiet nature is usually to sit back and observe the crowd. But this time I knew I couldn’t. I did hang back for a little bit to try to get a feel for the room and the scene, but gradually people started saying hi, I said hi back, and I was meeting a decent number of folks who were honestly super impressed that A) I came to the event as a college student and B) I had my own networking card (college students out there–MAKE A NETWORKING CARD; people will act like you’ve created the next Facebook–okay, maybe not quite, but they’ll be really, super impressed, I promise!). For the most part people were friendly, though I admit the room was a little cliquey, though not anymore than any other networking event.
About halfway through the mingling someone approached me, shook my hand, and started asking questions about what I did. The answer of college student always triggers the follow-up questions about what you’re looking to do when you graduate. The conversation was friendly for the most part, but intense. I explained to her that I was looking for jobs in the communications area–social media, PR, marketing, etc. She immediately asked me what courses I had taken in those areas. I told her that I hadn’t taken formal classes in them, since DePauw is a pretty traditional liberal arts school, and that I was majoring in English Writing and was in a media honors program. Before I could open my mouth about anything else, or ask her any questions, or have a general polite conversation, she heard my academic background, smirked, said “Well, good luck with that,” and walked away. End of conversation.
She didn’t ask me about my professional experiences, like how I’d spent three and a half months doing a full time, 40+ hour a week internship doing marketing research, copywriting, and sales data analysis for the sales office of a radio station. Or how during a 3 week Winter Term internship at a small non-profit I’d landed them a spot on the morning news to talk about their upcoming major charity event. Or about how I’d gotten nine bylines in a popular local publication during a month-long internship to fill the gap between my full-time internship and full-time summer job helping to teach kids about media at an academic camp. All she heard was liberal arts, scoffed at me, and dismissed me as a helpless job prospect. What I took from it was her telling me I’d never work in communications because I chose to go to a top-notch school that happened to give me a full scholarship.
I’ve seen this person at other events over the past few years, and I honestly always avoid her. We haven’t spoken since. I don’t follow her on Twitter, and I get a little pang of disappointment whenever people I do follow re-tweet her. And honestly, every time a job app goes unnoticed or an interview is a failure, I can’t help but think of her snarkiness and wonder if, in fact, she was right.
I’m not writing this to get back at this person, and obviously I’m not naming her or where she works. But I’m writing this because I think it’s important to remember tact and kindness in networking situations. I can’t help a lot of people, but on the rare occasion a DePauw student or a classmate or a friend has asked for help, or I have a connection that would be of use, or I know of a job opening they would love, I don’t hesitate. This job market sucks and everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, whether you think your career is solid or not, can use a little help now and then.
So if a college kid shows up at a networking event and you start talking, listen. Instead of smirking and dismissing, I wish that person would have at least offered a genuine good luck, or maybe introduced me to someone else at the event, or recommended a book or a website, or offered a kind, simple word of advice from her own job search. Because if you’re talking to a college kid at a professional networking event–especially a senior–keep in mind that they chose to spend their night talking to people like YOU when they could have just as easily been at school, hanging out and having a drink with friends. And honestly after this particular experience, maybe I should have done that instead.