By Meg DePanise
My peers and I had the opportunity to join local professionals for an evening of eating, mingling and advising at Thursday’s Networking Etiquette event.
The Career Center partnered with the Frederick Chamber of Commerce to organize the two-hour occasion at the cool Ayse Meze Lounge in Downtown Frederick. Let me start by saying that my attendance was without doubt worthwhile.
I’ve been aware of the critical importance of networking for a long time and I’ve heard from everyone—my family, coworkers, and professors— that connections are everything and a college degree is not enough to set you apart in the job market. With that said, I am also aware of my natural aversion to networking events.
I am what most would call an introvert and large social gatherings are not exactly my favorite things ever. However, I am a driven soon-to-be college graduate, and this networking event seemed like it could fit very well into my whole getting a job strategy. In the end, I squashed down my nerves and went with a couple of my PRSSA buddies.
I didn’t know exactly what to expect of the night but I arrived, dressed in my pencil skirt and blazer and armed with a stack of business cards. Thoroughly chilled by the freezing rain, I was definitely happy when I stepped into Ayse Meze’s cozy atmosphere. I quickly claimed a spot next to the fire place and was soon presented with some delicious hors d’oeuvres.
Upon arrival, I was given a name tag with a color which I learned, following the opening remarks, were to separate all of us into groups. The students rotated every 15 minutes to the next group to learn from the experts.
The first networking experts that the yellow group and I met were Allison Seaton and Justin Saltzman of Liberty Mutual Insurance. They talked about how to make a good impression with an elevator speech and how not to be a wallflower at events like that one. Of course my first thought was “I like being a wallflower” but listening to them I began to see their point that introversion isn’t a malady in the world of business and communications that one must overcome to be successful. It’s ok to be a little shy or a slightly awkward. The important thing is to be genuine. Also, the buffet is not a bad place to hang out; the small talk comes more naturally and “that dip looks good…” is about as good an opener as any.
Ellen Keyser of 270 Net and Clark Briggs of Frederick County Bank spoke to us about the art of conversations and how to begin a good chat. A simple introduction is a great place to start. If one thing is true, it’s that people love to talk about themselves. It’s important to ask questions and show interest in what the person you’re speaking to is passionate about and when you can, share a connection to what you do. Also, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to talk to every single person in the room! In fact, that’s the wrong way to go about networking. You want to engage in substantial one-on-one conversations and you want to make a lasting impression.
Michael Kurtianyk of the Frederick County Chamber gave us some advice about how to follow up with connections, when to connect on social media, and what to do with business cards. After the networking event is over, your work isn’t done. It’s crucial to send a follow up email or make a phone call the day after the event to make the most of your new connections. Even if you think you’ll never in a million years have a reason to do business with someone, send a follow up email and add them on LinkedIn because you really never know went they might be able to offer you something.
Business cards are essential at networking events. They go together like peanut butter and jelly. I designed my own but it’s also easy and inexpensive to order a stack online. I learned that the glossy double-sided cards are not always the most practical choice because pen doesn’t write well on them. You may need to write on your card if you want to write down a date or a different phone number for someone.
Also, you should write on other peoples cards at least one thing you remember from your conversation that you can use as a dialogue starter if you meet them again whether that be at another networking event or even at an interview. They’ll certainly be impressed if you remember a marketing campaign they were in the middle of or ask about their family vacation. Networking takes work if you do it right; study those business cards like flash cards and if you know prior to the event who will be attending do a bit of research.
The basics of where to place your name tag, handshakes, and how to tackle the plate and glass balancing act were covered by Jason McDonald of Teleplus Corp. and Doug Raftery ‘12 of the Frederick Keys. This was the last group of the night for me and I sure did see what they meant about trying to eat and shake hands. The key is to keep the plate in your left hand so your right is free for handshakes. Also, the nametag goes on the right. I wore mine wrong the whole night but hey, now I’ll be an expert for next time.
Meghan Butler and Rick Weldon of the Chamber of Commerce were also in attendance along with Linda Harley from US Silica. After the groups, we had a little bit of time to share what we learned with everyone and put our new knowledge to use.
I learned that networking is important for all kinds of reasons whether that be developing your current career, obtaining referrals or sales leads, or getting a job. I liked something that Clark Briggs said: “Networking is casting a net to find work.” A personal connection is a great way to get your resume on the top of the pile. The thing to remember is that a good network is really just a circle of friends and friendship is a two-way street—help others, and others will help you.