Networking: Real vs. Fake

Okay, if you’re like me, you came into Kogod hearing the word “networking” coming for all corners of the building. There are formal definitions out there that essentially define networking as the harvesting of people who, when combined together, will somehow benefit you. That sounded like a great idea to me…so I figured I’d try networking.

How did I first start networking? Why, I created a LinkedIn profile of course! Once I learned the ins and outs of the online networking platform, I quickly began building what became a second Facebook account. Within a couple weeks, I had over 100 connections, almost all of which were personal friends, scientists, golf club attendants, a farmer, or a combination of these. What a network! I was clearly really good at this (or at least clicking a mouse button) and I didn’t have any doubt that I was going to land my dream job.

Recently, I decided that I will be concentrating in finance. I love the material and know it’s something that I will do well with. I started thinking about where I would want to go, what company I’d like to work for, what actual positions were out there; and I came up with a pretty good list. Then I had a nice little reality check.

I was talking to my beautiful fiance about where we would want to go, and where a good place to work might be, and she kindly chimed in with, “Do you even know anyone in finance?”

Uhhhhhhhhhh. Well I have a network on LinkedIn, so I must know someone, right? WRONG. I looked through my account and the only finance connections I had were the Facebook equivalent of people that you “friend” after one too many chocolate milks on a Thursday night at college. That’s when I realized that networking is so much more than just knowing people…but I still didn’t actually know how to network. So I took a new approach.

For my first move, I went to the KCCD and talked with Jen Murphy about my aspirations and my utter lack of a useful network. She put me at ease and then sent me in the direction of some people that are currently affiliated with finance at Kogod. I reached out to them using a more personal approach (ahem…email) and set up some in-person meetings. At these meetings, I have been focusing more on learning about the finance industry and what I’m interested in rather than trying to find a new job.

To lay the ground work for more meetings, I’m making it a point to create another connection at the conclusion of the meeting (a big thanks to Julie Jones for pointing out this critical step). After the meeting, I’m also trying to follow up (in another email) with the person I met, and the person who put us in contact. By the way, my version of a follow up is more or less a simple “thank you” letter with just a little bit of relevant substance.

Even with people I know, this networking thing is somewhat nerve wracking. But, only a few weeks into my new networking style, I can already say things are getting easier. I’ve sort of bashed LinkedIn here, but it does serve a great purpose both for you and the people who know you. Its major drawback, in my opinion, is that LinkedIn can mistakenly portray networking as being easy. It’s not. I’m learning that it takes real, physical interaction beyond being connected to someone “on the 1st” tier through a website. LinkedIn definitely makes networking more accessible, but it sure doesn’t make the process any simpler; nor does it make the people you know any more or less relevant.

I’m glad that I’ve started this “real” process of networking now. I’ve still got another year and a half to really put this thing into motion. And, if my stint with finance fails…at least I know I can reach out to my connection in the farming industry.

120 School Days + 2,688 Miles = 1 Amazing LA Vacation

A couple of weeks ago I visited two of my cohort mates in Los Angeles.  It was freezing in DC, and the opportunity to cash in my miles and seek warmer ground was a no-brainer.

Shopping in Santa Monica

It was amazing!  Thirty minutes after arriving at LAX and after jamming my down wintercoat into my suitcase, I was eating lunch at a Santa Monica eatery with the sun on my face and the Pacific Ocean in my view.

The next few days were a whirlwind:  shopping in Santa Monica, racing down Pacific Coast Highway, soaking in the art and gardens at the Getty Museum, standing in line for an ice cream sandwich at Diddy Riese near the UCLA campus, boutiquing in Westwood, riding the winding Malibu canyon on a Harley and stopping at the Rock Store off of Mulholland Hwy, bowling at the infamous bowling alley from the Big Lebowski (mark it zero, please), taking an hour to go 4 blocks in infamous traffic (ok, not so fun), and celebrity sight-seeing (I swear I saw Khloe).

1st Year MBAs (L-R) Alexandra, Jen, & Maria Teresa at the Getty Museum

As I sit here in DC a few weeks later, I smile as I think about how different this trip to LA was compared to my previous visits.  I’d been to LA a couple of times for both vacation and business, but I felt like I saw this trip differently.

For example, while in the legendary line getting my ice cream sandwich at Diddy Riese for $1.50 and feeling an instant exhilaration at how cheap and delicious a deal this was, I then realized that this was an exact example of what one of my professors called “consumer surplus.”  Good thing Diddy Riese doesn’t know just exactly how much I would indeed be willing to pay for that there sandwich.  As I walked out of their shop, I wondered how Diddy Riese could possibly be making money charging such deliciousness at such an obscenely low rate?  I glanced at the long line that I had just been standing in and remembered the concepts of volume sales and cost efficient goods providers.  Gotcha.  Of course, both concepts flew out of my mind as I polished off the rest of my sandwich.  In fact, much of what I was thinking flew out as I finished such deliciousness.

Diddy Riese Cookie Sandwiches...a $1.50 slice of Heaven

Being an MBA student has given me another way of viewing the world around me:  it’s like I’m now traveling with 3D glasses with my newly acquired knowledge.  One semester in, I was sitting in my free ticket seat and wondering what dynamic pricing models my airlines had used in offering seats on the plane to wondering what the size of endowment and interest rate the Getty might need to operate such a facility for the public good.  It was as if I saw business everywhere and it made the strings of connecting everything so much more vibrant and clear.

I’m looking forward to going on one of the study abroad trips that Kogod is offering over the next break.  I’ll have gone through six more classes and learned a slew of other concepts and developed a host of skills.  On that note, maybe I’ll try considering consumer surplus while consuming macaroons and an espresso from Ladurées on the Champs Elysées next?  Oui!  Oui!

Food Networking

To be clear…this entry has absolutely nothing to do with TV, top chef competitions, or celebrity cook-offs. Rather, it serves as analogy between an activity that intimidates a lot of us and my most beloved thing in the world. Yes, in a lot of ways, I think it is wise to approach networking in the same way one approaches food. Stick with me, I promise this will make some sense.

As many of us know by now, networking is a huge part of the MBA experience. It plays a large role learning about industries in which you are interested, meeting professionals with vast amounts of knowledge, and putting yourself in the best possible position to advance into your career of choice. Basically, it is so important that you need to do some form of it everyday…much like eating. Make sure you are well fed ladies and gentlemen.

Some of the most meaningful meals I have had in my life took a long time to prepare. Likewise, the best networking relationships are formed over time. In a perfect world, we would be able to send a brief email to a particular professional and get all of the information we needed along with that coveted internship. But we can’t eat Ramen Noodles and Hungry Man microwaveable dinners all the time. In reality, it takes a lot of time and effort to build the trust necessary for someone to really support you professionally.

Think about it: would you be more impressed with a three-course meal or an Oscar Meyer Lunchables? If you said Lunchables, I would have agreed with you about twenty years ago.

Now, not all of your grand meals will go according to plan. I can’t even count how many times I have set off the smoke alarm in my kitchen or gotten an underwhelmed reaction from someone I cooked for. But you get better each time. You learn when to add seasoning, how long to cook something, and what foods best complement each other. In networking, you aren’t going to get close to everyone you talk to. Slowly but surely, however, you learn when to send emails, take people out for coffee, and what approach works best for you. It is a process and just like everything else in this world, it takes practice.

I won’t say that you can’t have a Pop Tart every now and then. But pay attention to your networking diet. Proper sustenance is the key to getting your career off the ground.

In the words of Wim Taylor of the KCCD, “You’ve got to put that thing in the oven, let it bake for a while, check on it, let it bake some more, and finally you will have something good to eat.” You have been shopping for the necessary groceries all of your life whether it be through work or academic experience. It is up to you to fine tune your networking recipe and create a feast fit for a king. Bon appétit!

What I *might* want to be when I grow up…

Garbage Truckin'

Back in the day...

When I was a young kid (like when Wee-Sing children’s videos were cool…Google it), I wanted to be a garbage man. To me, riding on the back of a garbage truck looked absolutely awesome. In what other job would I get to be at the mercy of a giant machine and enjoy the “fresh” air every Friday morning? As time went by, more lucrative options have entered my job seeking portfolio, and the Kogod MBA is adding more and more by the semester, and even by the day. Currently, I work as a civilian (not “civil”) mechanical engineer with the government and it’s no secret that I entered into the MBA program to move on to different things. But where to go?

I’ve spent most of my time at Kogod trying to figure out what it is that I really enjoy doing and why I like doing it.  I mean, I became and engineer for some reason, right? Sure. Engineering has given me the chance to explore new challenges, collect and analyze data, plan projects, and publish my findings. All of this is great.

Look at 'em all.

That's a lot of information.

The one BIG thing I feel I miss out on as a research engineer is having a finished product. So I did an experiment, made it work, and wrote a report. If the sponsor is happy with what I discovered, then concept rides off into the sunset. Otherwise, the design is tweaked and comes back to us for more evaluation, only to be sent out again. The work we do is extremely valuable, but I’m looking to produce more than just the report, I want to help something (be it a business or product) grow and prosper.

This brings me to the idea of private equity. Instead of an indirect relationship to a product (as is the case with the engineering research I perform), something like private equity would allow me to have a more acute impact on a direction, goals, and operations of a target company. I like the idea searching for potential, for great ideas, and for the next big thing and then taking a calculated risk toward accomplishing a success-oriented goal.

Private equity has gotten some bad press as of late, but I’ve looked at this field from different perspectives and see a net positive outcome from a majority of the relationships between a PE firm and a target firm…even in the case of failure. PE gives companies a better chance; a better chance to grow, prosper, and even survive. No, it’s not my dream job of riding on the back of a garbage truck, but based on where I am today and my interests and strengths in the MBA program, private equity seems to line up nicely.

3 down, 1 to go

Time flies. Cliche perhaps, but definitely appropriate after completing 3 semesters of graduate school and staring at the course load for the final march toward graduation. THis weekend while setting up  my Google calendar with my new class schedule, upcoming extracurricular activities and job hunting trips to New York, it becomes more apparent that as commencement gets nearer, I am counting down the rest of my time in DC.

With that in mind, I figured that it would be nice to develop a bucket list of sorts. A way to hold myself accountable for finishing the program and my tenure in DC with a plan. That way, when I relocate to NY in May, I’ll feel like I made the most of my time at Kogod.

I typically enjoy habit and ritual. Kogod@Lunch, Kogod@Night, internal and external networking events and happy hours are definitely on the agenda. I can’t imagine my last semester going well without them. Spring specific events like the Red Dress Event hosted by Kogod Women in Business and American University Founder’s Ball which is being co-sponsored by the Graduate Leadership Council are high on the priority list. Planning wise, the JDRF Volleyball Tournament and Kogod Graduate End of the Year Party are likely to take up the a great deal of my semester. With potential venues selected and menus decided, now the fun of planning the party begins.

Time to make the trek to the Mall

Aside from school, there are several other more traditional DC experiences that I need to cross off my list. Firstly, I need to step foot inside the Capitol. After living in DC for 5 years, passing it countless times, I have never once stepped foot inside the Capitol. Pathetic, I know. A close second is to maximize my time with my friends from DC. Those people  that have made the past 5 years so memorable and helped to ease the transition from student to working professional and back again.

Spring semester to-dos:

  • Red Dress Event
  • JDRF Volleyball Tournament
  • Tour the US Capitol
  • Founder’s Ball
  • Darden Softball Tournament
  • Georgetown Basketball Tournament
  • Find a job…
  • End of the Year Party
  • Graduate.
  • Move to New York

This has nothing to do with an MBA

Now I know that when I study for exams, I do a lot more than I need too. For most of my classes, I try to record lectures using a little handheld digital recorder that cost way more than it should have. I then organize the files in their own folder on my computer, sync them up with my iPod nano, and listen to them almost continuously for the 5 days before the exam. In my own defense, it’s kind of a mindless effort to just sit (or run, or drive) and listen to old lectures. I actually highly recommend it. Exam day finally comes, I get a crick in my neck from sitting in an uncomfortable chair for 2.5 hours, and then…freedom.

I finished my last exam of my fourth semester (of nine) just a couple days ago. The drive home from that exam wasn’t that much different from my other drives back from Kogod, but when my fiance called and said, “There’s a surprise waiting for you on the coffee table,” that ride became a little more high speed.

That's me in black war fighting gear.

I walked in the door to my apartment and it was clear that Santa had come early! Wrapped in fresh cellophane plastic, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 sat ready to provide me with hours of opportunity to save the world from destruction.

“Congratulations on finishing your semester!” Ashley (my fiance) said. “I’ll leave you two alone.”

I put the video game – nay!, the awesomeness – into my Playstation 3 game console, and began my quest of domination. As the opening credits started, I was reminded of my undergraduate days when my roommates and I would network our computers together and play against each other for dorm room glory.

It was a great feeling to finally have a chance to relax from the rigors of the MBA program and regress to my childish, coma inducing ways. My PS3 had been collecting dust since January. I’ve got about a month of play time, and at this rate, I think I’ll be looking pretty pale when I get back to class. I’ll probably get another crick in my neck too. Oh well. It’s a small price to pay for glory.

Playing the role of tour guide

One of the greatest parts of going to school at American is its location. Washington D.C. is one of those smallish cities (as compared to NYC) that make living here feel easy and with tons of things to do in the nations capital I find that I’m never at a loss for out of town visitors! Since I started at American I’ve had friends drive in from Philadelphia and New York, fly in for a vacation from Chicago or spend the night during a long road trip down south. With all of my guests I find myself scrambling at the last minute to put together a to-do list, so in true type-A fashion, I’ve put together a “must see” list for DC, to use on that next batch of guests that come my way. Hopefully you’ll be able to use it too!

1. FREE Attractions: Oh yes, you heard me right, FREE! DC is the home of FREEdom and man does it deliver. From the amazing Smithsonian museums to the plethora of monuments there’s a weeks worth or things to do without spending a dime. A few of my favorites include-

The Museum of American History: I find this to be my favorite Smithsonian to bring guests to because there’s something for everyone. From Julia Child’s kitchen to an exhibit on American wars, everyone you know will have a great time. And did I mention they have Kermit AND Dorothy’s ruby slippers?

 

Roosevelt Island: Located in the middle of the Potomac, this memorial to our former president is a beautiful little oasis with walking trails all surrounding a memorial. Its a great place to walk around or even bring a picnic lunch.

 

 

Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage: Every day, 365 days of the year, the Kennedy Center has a free production at 6:00pm. Changing everyday, you’ll never know what you’ll find- sometimes dance, sometimes jazz- it provides a little something for everyone. While you’re there don’t miss the spectacular views from the Kennedy Center’s rooftop!

2. I’m Hungry!: DC has some amazing restaurants at all sorts of price tags. With cuisine from all of over the world, adventurous eaters can take advantage of DC’s multicultural nature. My top picks:

Ethiopian Food: DC has a HUGE Ethiopian population and at times it seems like there is an Ethiopian restaurant on every corner. Definitely take advantage of the unique family style food offerings and bring a group! Food is spicy and rich so come with a full belly.

 

Restaurant Nora: While its on the pricey side, this restaurant is one of my favorites in DC. Named the very first organic restaurant in the US, Nora provides fresh and homey cuisine. Take advantage of the prefix meals and wine/beer pairings.

 

 

 

Ray’s Hell Burger/Ben’s Chili Bowl: Two iconic DC (ok Ray’s is in Arlington…) spots provide delicious and totally bad for you food- but trust me its worth every calorie! Both are great places if you’re on a budget, with most menu items under $10. Be prepared to fight a crowd- both get VERY crowded but are worth the wait!

 

 

 

3. Lastly…Don’t Waste Your Time!: DC can be a tourist trap and there are definitely things that I kinda think are a total waste…here we go-

Georgetown Cupcakes- Oh man. You get a little TV show on TLC and all of a sudden its worth waiting an hour in line for your cupcakes. No way. They’re cupcakes people, that’s all. Chances of you getting on TV while getting said cupcake? Slim to none. I never can understand the line up the block at 9am on a Sunday morning. For the record, Cake does not equal breakfast.

 

The Spy Museum- Alright maybe if I was a 10 year old boy it would have been worth he $20+ price tag, but really…it wasn’t. If you’re into spies, go see the FBI exhibit at the American History Museum…or just watch yourself some Alias.

 

 

Finding the Darth Vader gargoyle on the National Cathedral- Now I’m not saying the Cathedral ain’t nice. Its nice. But if you go with the intention of finding the stupid Gargoyle of Darth Vader that some kid submitted as the epitome of evil, please for the love of God, don’t. I did this once, and will never, ever, ever, do it again. Don’t believe the guides that say, its so easy to find and see. It’s not. It’ll take you at least an hour and when you do find it, it’ll only be visable through the super zoom lens of your friends fancy shmancy camera. Look over there, to the right, I provided you with a photo, really its a better view than you’ll ever get. Seriously, I know you love Star Wars, but you have better things to do with your time.

And with that, I bid you adieu- May the Force be With You (just not on the National Cathedral…)