Last week, I was one of several local professionals invited to host a table at a Speed Networking event sponsored by the University of Texas at Arlington. The event was to help new graduates or upcoming May graduates to introduce themselves in a professional environment. A few had jobs in the field of choice, but most were looking for an internship or their first professional role.
All attendees were bright and eager for opportunity to network and receive feedback on their 30-second introduction. Four or five students would sit at my table, do their introduction, absorb their critique and then move to the next table to repeat the exercise. At the end of the night, they had the opportunity to practice their presentation six times, hopefully refining their message based on the critiques.
It was clear the graduate students had more on the ball that the undergraduates, or at least a higher level of self-confidence. They had a clearer vision of their career path and answered questions with greater clarity.
Almost without exception, everyone used more than 30 seconds for their presentation, a minor misdemeanor. A more serious infraction was lack of focus and how they were going to move forward. And only one student had a specific company in mind. My suggestion was to research your industry, pick three companies and then introduce yourself and ask for help into networking your way into any of these three companies.
One or two students had an underlying attitude that they were expecting their future employer to make the first move – without any real thought as to how to connect to the marketplace. I challenged this line of reason, “Leaving your career to the care of others is not a good habit. You are fully responsible for your career. You may not know how to do all you need to do to move forward in your career, but if you will embrace this idea about responsibility, the details will work themselves out in ways you never expected.”
I was a little surprised that I had to ask so many people to “speak up.” While they were competing with a moderate level of noise in the room, I was just imaging what it is going to be like at a busy job fair – they will be completely drowned out. A few women were soft spoken and one young man had a beautifully rich deep voice, but he spoke in a near whisper. As I mentioned to several, “If people can’t hear you, they won’t know how to respond and they will not know how to help you. Right now, you need people to help you.”
I applaud each of the students for attending the networking session. Their attendance shows initiative and a willingness to put themselves into an uncomfortable situation with a room full of strangers. Hopefully, the critiques provided some insight into better crafting their message. They have taken an important step in their transition from student to professional, so they can begin to enjoy the fruits of their labor.