Alumni return to teach students how to network—socially
Thursday, Mar 1, 2012
Twitter. Facebook. Google+. Foursquare. LinkedIn. These are a few of the hyper-modern social media outlets today’s students and alumni use to forge connections.
But on a Friday in February when members of the Alumni Board and local alumni were mingling on campus for lectures and events sponsored by the Alumni Office and Student Engagement Center (SEC), Whitman students learned one tried and true rule to networking the old-fashioned way.
When attending a cocktail reception, do not double-fist your drink and food plate.
“Cocktail receptions are not about the food or the drinks,” Susan Buchanan, director of career development, told a group of Whitman students, 21 and older, who attended a cocktail party at the Baker Faculty Center.
“They are about conversation.”
The reception was organized by alumni and SEC staff to help Whitman students practice their networking skills in real time. So Buchanan explained to the students that if their hands are full when a potential contact approaches it’s not only impossible to shake hands, it’s just plain awkward. Thirty minutes prior to the reception, Buchanan shared four rules of networking with the eager but nervous Whitman students.
1. Build trust: cocktail receptions are not about you. They are about getting information from potential contacts.
2. Listen: most people love to talk about themselves, and can provide valuable insight.
3. Networking can be done anywhere so be prepared.
4. Follow up with the contacts you make.
After the students discussed these networking strategies, a group of local alumni arrived at the Baker Faculty Center to mingle with students at an actual reception (given the availability of wine, only students 21 and older were invited).
The event “created an envirnoment and opportunity that would be both professionally useful as well as fun for everyone involved,” said Noah Leavitt, assistant dean for student engagement.
“Whitman students relish the opportunity to meet, learn from and be inspired by our alumni,” Leavitt said. “And I have meet many alumni who like to look first to Whitties to fill internships and jobs.”
While training for a cocktail reception might have made some of the Whitman students feel as if they were in finishing school, they were ready to mix once the local alumni walked through the doors.
“I’m here because I want to talk to alumni to see where they are and how they got there,” said Mackenzie Hales ’12, a politics and environmental studies major. “I’m graduating in the spring and I’m trying to figure out my next step,” she added.
Making sure one of his hands was free to extend to alumni, Spanish major David Hancock ’12 summed up the night directly: “This is a good place to do some schmoozing, and these alumni are good targets.”
Do Not Drop The F-Bomb
Networking targets can appear anywhere, on an airplane, at a party or even a chance encounter in a coffee shop. However, in today’s world stringing together a web of contacts normally takes place in cyberspace. While cyberspace is an efficient mode in which to promote one’s self, navigating social networks has potential pitfalls.
“If a post might embarrass your mother or grandmother, don’t post it,” warned Mary Deming Barber ’78, a 30-year public relations expert and a member of Whitman’s Alumni Board.
On this Friday of networking events, Barber delivered a lecture devoted to using social media to find jobs and internships, and ensure professional presentation through a digital identity. Barber outlined the many social media traps, including the story of an employee who tweeted an F-bomb-loaded rant about her boss, having forgotten that she had friended her boss on her Twitter account.
“Her boss read the post, and the employee was fired right away,” recounted Barber, who implemented the social media effort that contributed to the election of Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s through a write-in campaign.
Kirsten Adams Gable ’01, a fellow Alumni Board member who works for Sapere Consultants, volunteered for the day of networking because her time at Whitman provided “me with invaluable experiences and a foundation that has allowed me to be successful.
“I feel indebted to the Whitman community and appreciate the opportunities I have to give back and to help strengthen it,” she said.
Of course, as the chair of Sapere Consultants’ recruiting committee, Gable understands the inherent value of networking.
“I think it is important to talk to current students about networking because it helps to give them a leg up as they approach the next chapter in their lives,” Gable said. “I know the job market is increasingly difficult and have seen first hand the increase in the number of job applicants applying for limited positions. Students need to be thinking of all the tools they have at their disposal to help them, the Whitman network being one.”
Gable and Barber hit home the idea that networking tools can help and hurt students. Continuing to underline their point, they shared the old adage that “a picture is worth 1,000 words” while screening a slide that depicted a Facebook page on which a potential employee had posted revealing photos of a party celebrating a 21st birthday.
“Anyone can find your photos online, including a potential employer,” Barber said.
Gable and Barber’s closing argument to students hot on the networking trail: Google yourselves to find out what’s online; delete old accounts; make sure content is suitable for coworkers and potential employers, or securely safeguard content from outside eyes.
A good rule of thumb when networking, Barber and Gable agreed, is to “Clean house.”