Hello everyone, my name is Lindsay Western, and I have the great pleasure of making a guest appearance on this amazing blog. I am currently getting my Masters in Business Administration from LMU. I am here to tell you a little about my experience with a recent networking simulation I completed with Dr. Ensher’s Management Skills classes. I have a little confession, I HATE networking. Well hate is a very strong word. Coming from the world of nonprofit, I always felt as if networking was asking for handouts. Add in a small dose of shyness, and networking can leave me hiding in the bathroom trying to collect myself. Still, as a first year MBA student, I know that networking is an integral part of growing as a professional and advancing in the world of business. So by chance, and a great research assignment placement, I had the pleasure of joining Dr. Ensher for this activity.
The event had three components. Dr. Ensher provided a brief introduction and talked about success strategies for mentoring and networking. This provided students with the big picture. Then, she introduced her guest speaker, Dr. Rachel Isgar, whom she coincidentally met at USC while networking. Dr. Isgar, is the Founder and CEO of Please Pass the Manners, an Etiquette education company that provides classes to groups ranging from youth programs to businesses. She provided some very helpful tools to make certain that your first impression is a positive one. Finally, the students had the opportunity to put what they learned into action. We were all provided with card with a stated profession and need. The first session, I was an editor looking to expand my work, and the next session, I was a LMU student seeking the perfect internship. To make the event feel more real, Dr. Ensher had guest appearances from LMU faculty and staff. In both classes, students did very well. This was a rare opportunity that Dr. Ensher provided for undergrad students. Even as a MBA student with experience networking, I had so many takeaways that I was able to use. Listed below are some of the mentoring network highlights I thought might be helpful to others.
- First, I learned that Randy’s Donuts are some of the most delicious donuts known to mankind. They even feel delicious in your hands! Now I know you must be thinking, “ what does a donut have to do with networking?” Well, Dr. Ensher provided these delectable desserts for students as both a treat and a test. She mentioned after that while having a drink in your hand may provide some comfort, having food in front of you makes it difficult to hold a natural conversation. What both she and Dr. Isgar suggested was eating before the event, or pulling a friend aside and grabbing a quick bite before mingling in the crowd. I watched as this idea played out four days later at a MBA networking event with local employers. Many of my classmates were fumbling with food and wine the entire evening. Many times, the food distracted them from the natural flow of conversation, making it more difficult to connect. Having this prior tip really helped me out that night.
- Next, think of handshakes the way Goldilocks thought of everything. Make sure it is just right. Do not squeeze the life out of someone’s hands, but also do not shake your hand like a wet noodle. She also pointed out the importance of intentional eye contact when shaking someone’s hand.
- One thing I have found particularly difficult is moving in and out of different conversations. Usually, I either sit to the side hoping to find a group to naturally join, or I get stuck with an individual who had inundated me with conversation. Few tips I learned about this subject were all about positions of the body. Look for groups where individuals are standing with their body open to the crowd. Seek eye contact with someone in a group, or an individual who will help you escape from one. Also, it is okay to snoop a little in networking. It allows for a natural entrance. At this point, you can enter the conversation with, “I do not mean to pry, but I overheard you discuss…” Once finishing conversations, a quick bathroom break or a refill of your drink will provide a natural exit.
- Also, read the newspaper, watch the news, or find something interesting to bring up in topics of conversation. As Americans we tend to focus on our jobs as our identities, but in networking a little more in needed. Share your interest; just make sure your topics are not at all polarizing. Great first question is always, “what brings you here to this event?”
- Lastly, know it is going to be uncomfortable. I think from now on, I will create a “character” every time I go to mentoring network events. Dr. Ensher called it being your “best professional self.” Before we went into networking we had to plan out what we were going to say about the person we were pretending to be. Why not take time before events and think about how you are going to present yourself. Why are you going there, who are you? What connections do you want to make? Playing a part took so much pressure off of me as an individual, and I think it was a great unintentional lesson.
Now, I feel that networking can be fun, and that it isn’t always about what I can get from someone, but also what I can provide.
P.S. from Dr. Ensher: Special thanks and acknowledgement to the authors of the text I use in this Management Skills class which is Interpersonal Skills in Organizations (Suzanne De Janasz, Karen Dowd, and Beth Schenider) who created the networking simulation exercise. It has been a bit hit in my class for several semesters!
Click this link to learn more about success strategies for mentoring.