The Value of Networking

While visiting companies and gaining insight from speakers of eclectic career paths, I couldn’t help but consider the daunting idea of “life after college.” As we all embark on the final years of our college careers, the real world that had always been this far-off dream is suddenly our impending reality. Studying and dedicating much of our lives to the idea of receiving diplomas and changing the world hasn’t left my classmates and I feeling all that prepared for the critical next step of finding careers, regardless of how much we have thought about the subject. As incredibly inspiring as our lecturers have been, and believe me when I say our lives have been altered for the better, reality inevitably rears its ugly head that our lives are our own, and that like our cases, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to every question, no one action to every endeavor. In a job market like the one we are facing, most of us undergo periods in which we feel a little unsure how to approach attaining our dream jobs.

Upon hearing our reservations about finding internships, Kimberly Jenkins and Amy Unell decided to create a networking workshop for the Duke in Silicon Valley students. The Friday afternoon workshop provided us with a framework to networking, including finding our focus and passion, doing the necessary research and preparation for interviews, and creating a value statement or “elevator pitch.” The activity forced all of us to really reflect on our lives and class experience, consider our interests, skills and passions, and think about what we wanted from a career, both short and long term. Regardless of your exposure or experience to networking, I believe I can speak for all of the students in saying that the experience was better than anything we could have anticipated. The experience not only showed me how to approach to my career, but also altered the way I will think about my strengths and weaknesses as an individual moving forward.

The first step she outlined was finding your focus and your passion. Kimberly asked us all to answer a series of questions, including everything from “What do you want to do,” to “Where do you want to live,” to “People we admire, to “Blogs, websites, TV shows, and movies we enjoy.” Whatever these things were, she encouraged us to write down the things that could be infused with energy, particularly when talking to a potential connection or employer. Through discussing a classmates interests and drawing logical career paths, the class was approach finding your passion in a very different way. I have personally always been one of those people who have known what I like, but not what specific career I wanted to get into, making the thought of applying to jobs a little nerve wrecking. Focusing on these elements that I did know really helped me to put things into perspective and think to draw connection to career paths I hadn’t considered. I hope that as a group, we do this exercise for each student, because the end result will indubitably introduce us to a new way of approaching these issues.

Secondly, Kimberly and Amy outlined the steps that are most important to networking. Whether it was memorizing the contents of their website and company news or contacting family and friends that know the industry, they stressed that the more you know, the better you would come off. Being specific about the things you enjoy about and showing genuine curiosity allow you to establish an instant rapport with people working in the industry. That “you can never say too much about their company or their work” was a major take away, pushing us to be as authentic about our connection to their work as we want to be.

Lastly, we each used our list of passions to create a 60 second value statement that could be delivered as a pitch to potential employers or anyone that could help us to attain our goals. Though the major points to hit, such as name, school, skills, and passions were standard, Kimberly really encouraged us to be specific and real, manifesting what about our careers and interests really excite us. Though I recognize qualities in others, viewing myself in the metaphorical “mirror” is not something that I do or even think about. Despite wanting others to see how you can add value, rarely do people take time to reflect on the qualities that make them valuable. Self-reflection, at least for me, is a little odd and uncomfortable, but clearly one of the most important things I could do in preparation for the next phase of my life. As odd as self-reflecting may feel in the moment, it speaks in volumes when you are able to confidently “Do The Ask,” or confront someone with how they can help you, and be prepared to relay how you could add value. Recognizing these elements is a crucial step and you begin to embark not only on a journey through the workforce, but on life as a whole. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses prepare you for being a better employee and a better person.

But even further beyond this idea, it was an incredible experience for the class that really solidified the bond we have been creating in our last several weeks of the program. As a group, we have really come together and become close in an astoundingly fast amount of time. Hearing praise from the people we have come to love, champion, admire, and call our family is not something to be overlooked. Not only do I now recognize in my strengths, but have come to realize that others also see these strengths and skills, giving me the faith and confidence to conquer the next phase of my life, no matter how unknowing, exhilarating, and/or terrifying it may seem. My hope is that through continuing these self-exploratory exercises over the next week and a half that each and every one of the DSV students can gain the same confidence and discovery from the exercise, especially as they go on to fulfilling what I know will be incredibly successful careers.

Kerry Nelson, Wake Forest University 2014

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