How to network
February 27, 2011 5:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm in the final months of my university degree, and several companies (finance related) who I'll be applying for work with are holding 'networking' events on campus. How exactly does one 'network'?

I haven't attended this sort of thing before. Furthermore I'm generally awkward at making conversation with strangers and terrible at small-talk, and I don't know what one is supposed to say to these types of people, so I'm expecting the most likely outcome to be that I'll make a dork out of myself.
posted by moorooka to Work & Money (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Don't go in with the expectation you'll make a fool of yourself, first off! Research the companies who'll be there - what they offer in their graduate intake programs etc - that'll give you something to talk about. To an extent you're selling yourself, but it's not a one way street - the companies wouldn't be there if they didn't want fresh meat. Ask what kind of grads they're looking for, what the nature of the work they set grads to is, what the company culture is like. Introduce those topics by referring to your research, perhaps - "I was reading on your website that blah blah blah." Don't ask crass things like salaries, or volunteer details like your GPA.

Your smalltalk doesn't have to be sophisticated, but it's often a necessary icebreaker. If there's food, talk about that. Creating a little bridge of connection before you get into weighty topics can make for an easier conversation
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 5:56 PM on February 27, 2011

I've been to (and represented our agency at) these sorts of things. I've got 31 piles of paper on my desk at the moment from our latest hun...erm, approach to the market.

First, we want you more than you want us. We're desperately short of staff with finance, accounting and economics qualifications. There's a lot of competition. We're not holding these sorts of things so you can sell yourselves to us. We want to sell ourselves to you. Behold our awesome nibblies. We're a lovely bunch of people, aren't we? Why yes, we'd love to talk to you some more about an opportunity with our firm / department.

And that's really all there is to it. It's a place for us to say 'we're hiring!' and for you to say 'I'm interested' so we can get together later and chat. We're not making any decisions on the spot. First impressions sort of count, I guess, but the chances are pretty good that the person you follow up with later isn't the person who was dumb enough to get roped into attending the event in the first place.

We understand that people who get into finance often aren't scintillating conversation makers who instantly command the centre of attention (well, most of us do). So relax. "Hi, I'm Moorooka, lovely to meet you. Yes, just wrapping up my B Finance - it'll be great to finally put all this into practice! Well, it's early days, so I'm keeping my options open, but I'm particularly interested in x and y. Do you have a card? Great. Well, I'll send over a copy of my transcript and a brief CV and perhaps we can catch up some time in the next couple of weeks. Thanks, it was really nice to meet you. I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening."
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:48 PM on February 27, 2011

Consult your career office to determine which, if any, employers use their networking events as the primary means of selecting candidates to interview -- it shouldn't be many, and it may well be none.

With the exception of those firms, skip the events. The chance you'll hurt yourself by making a bad impression exceeds the chance you'll help yourself by making a good impression. You are going to be competing against people who are very slick in this kind of environment, for the attention of people who (by the very fact that they made time to go to a university network event) are inclined to be pleased by that kind of slickness. In the unlikely event you're asked at your interview if you made it to the networking event, say you had a conflict, and made up for by doubling up your research on the company.

By the way, the social skills demanded of an actual career in finance, at least the first half-dozen years of it, are really the 180-degree opposite of those that are exhibited at networking with strangers events. You need to be able to form functional and friendly relationships with people with whom you have a tremendous amount in common and spend a huge amount of time with, and you need to be able listen and communicate effectively regarding highly complex and specific topics. A moderate degree of dorkiness works perfectly fine.
posted by MattD at 6:55 PM on February 27, 2011

I went to many employer information sessions during my senior year of undergrad. "Networking" is just a label. These people will most likely not become a part of your "network."

The following will happen:
  • A group of recruiters and other representatives of the employer will be present.
  • Some of them may be recent hires from your school.
  • These people will give you a 15-30 minute presentation about the company in general and opportunities for new college hires in particular — jobs, locations, company "culture," and how much fun it is to work for them.
  • Half of this will be fluff and half will be stuff you already probably know from scanning their website, which is usually full of similar content.
  • After the presentation, there will be some time allotted for "mingling" with the recruiters.
  • Most people will try to make vague, limp smalltalk, except for the ones who have professional or personal ties to the company — internships, family, etc.
  • These people will be able to ask specific questions and make non-tiresome conversation with the recruiters.
  • I guess the goal of the "mingling" is to make yourself known to the recruiters, so that you'll have a leg up when time comes for on-campus interviews.
  • However, if you're a marginal applicant to begin with, impressing the recruiter with your sparkling cocktail chatter will probably fail to give you that leg up.
On the whole, I haven't found these information sessions to be particularly worthwhile. If you're an especially outstanding applicant with a track record with that employer — by all means attend and make yourself known. Otherwise, coming or not coming will not really influence your chances one way or another.
posted by Nomyte at 6:57 PM on February 27, 2011

I've been on both sides of the table at these events. And thus: yes to what previous answerers have said. Check who's going to be there, in case any of the employers specifically prefer to meet candidates via these events. Research them ahead of time so you can say moderately intelligent things. But don't sweat it if you can't make it at all.

A few additions:

* There will be last-minute additions: employers who show up and staff a booth, but who didn't pre-register in time to get in the official program.
* You say you're not good at small talk. For five employers you're interested in, construct a sentence of the form: "I'm [description], so I think you might be interested in me in [capacity]." Example: "I'm an accountant with international and research experience, so I think you might be interested in me as a finance analyst." Or, "I'm a graduating senior in finance and I'm looking to work in Europe when I graduate, so I think you might be interested in me for your EU program, since I've heard it's expanding." Once you have made and practiced that sentence, you can deploy it when you introduce yourself to the employer's representative, and you've given them a handle on you so they can keep the conversation going.
* There are lots of other Ask MeFi questions & answers about small talk, conversation with strangers, & networking. Read them. Do the exercises. Even if you don't per se need to go to these events now, getting better at this stuff will help you substantially over the course of your life.
posted by brainwane at 12:07 PM on February 28, 2011

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