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.

In support of KCCD

It’s a new semester, which means new classes… like the first-year career development class run by the Kogod Center for Career Development. I hear my fellow first-years groaning, and I know the reasons why. First, the class is from 9:55am to 12:25pm on our “free-morning” days. Second, it’s a class about the tedious, nitty-gritty of career development: resumes, cover letters, networking skills, interview skills, etc. And finally, it’s a zero-credit, pass/fail class. So all in all, I’d venture to say that some of you aren’t huge fans. This got me thinking: How useful is this class anyway? What is it really doing to develop my career? And what’s so great about KCCD anyway? I would venture to say that it is Kogod’s greatest asset, and that this class will give you the skills to present yourself professionally for the rest of your life.

The KCCD is what drew me to Kogod, and so far, I’m thrilled with my experience there. The graduate counseling staff is outstanding; Arlene Hill, Jen Murphy, and Jacques Domenge are your biggest champions, and are some of the nicest, well-connected people you’ll ever meet. Without their counsel, we really could not reach our final goal upon the completion of this degree.

In my opinion, the career development class is our biggest value-add at Kogod. Our school emphasizes perfecting your resume and cover letter, sharpening your interview skills, setting yourself apart from other candidates, and helping you to take a hard look at yourself and your goals to find that perfect career enough to hire and entire staff to assist you in doing so. But KCCD also understands how busy we are, so they’ve carved time out of our schedules to help us do so.

Though KCCD does an excellent job getting employers interested in its students, we can’t lose focus of building our own networks through old-fashioned networking. Jen and Arlene and Jacques might hold our hands through some things, but they’re not going to feed us, too. Having trouble getting your networking plan off the ground? New to DC or switching careers? Make an appointment and reap the benefits of what KCCD does best: career development.

Oh, and let’s forget that we’re all in this together. I couldn’t be happier to go to school with the friends I’ve made in both the first- and second-year classes. I know that I’m not going to be able to build a successful career without you all.

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For those of you doing your research about whether or not you want to come to Kogod, here’s the skinny: The KCCD gives you an incredible support system to get where you want to go, but you need to be realistic about coming to school in Washington, DC. If you’re expecting to go into finance, CPG, or commercial consulting, you’ll need to get your networking shoes on and get to work. (Or go to school in New York or the Midwest.) KCCD has amazing contacts, but the companies who recruit are largely consulting firms looking to hire for their federal practices, for IT positions, or in the non-profit world. So if you’re keen on IBM, Deloitte, CSC, or any of the hundreds of small, development consultancies in the DC-area, you must come to Kogod. But if you want to do something else, consider this: How often do you have the opportunity to study in a global city, the capital of the United States of America, and have chances to network with some of the most important people and influential companies in the world?