Networking to Build Connections

The skill of “networking,” means meeting people who share your interests and who could provide you with guidance or assistance. It is also about you helping others when the opportunity arises. Networking is an important part of academic life, but many students feel they lack the skills to network confidently and effectively. Here are a few strategies that will help you make valuable connections:

1] The most important strategy is to approach networking with the appropriate mindset. Don’t go to an event thinking, “I must meet someone who can advance my career or my studies.” This puts a lot of pressure on you, and may make you come across as a little aggressive. Instead, your mindset should be more like, “This is great! I’ll get to meet lots of people who share my interests.”

 
2] Don’t try to impress. Just be yourself. Be open and curious about the people with whom you speaking. The best connections are made between people who share a passion, so share your ideas, goals and interests.

 
3] When you first meet someone, make eye contact as you give them a firm handshake. First impressions have a strong impact on how people perceive you.

 
4] Make sure to introduce yourself in a way that stimulates conversation. “Hello, I’m Fred” is not nearly as likely to lead to a good conversation as “Hello, I’m Fred Coleman. I’m the student assistant for the Ideas Institute.”

 
5] Always ask for a business card, and also write a quick note on those you’ve connected with, so you don’t forget who is who and what you discussed.

 
6] Don’t feel that you need to meet everyone in the room at an event and find multiple opportunities or pieces of information. Making a good connection with one person who could give you some guidance in the future is a great outcome.

 
7] Remember that sometimes you will feel that you didn’t make any meaningful connections at an event. This happens often, so don’t be too disappointed. And, just being at an event might give you a good opening for a conversation in the future: “Weren’t you at the Saving the Seas workshop in January? I really enjoyed the guest speaker.”

 
8] Understand that everyone at the event may be networking to make valuable connections, and as a student you may not be at the top of their list of people they want to chat with. Don’t be disheartened by this. It doesn’t indicate any problem with you. Some people are simply less generous with their time than others, or are focused on important connections they themselves wish to make.

 
9] Keep in mind that people you speak with may be learning from you, too. Although some of them may be more advanced in their careers, you may have fresh ideas they haven’t yet encountered.

 
10] If you had a great conversation with someone, consider sending them an email to express how much you enjoyed meeting and speaking with them.

 
11] And have fun! You’ll me much more approachable and engaging if you are enjoying yourself.

Planning for the Worst Answer in Your Academic Interview

No matter how well prepared you are for your academic interview, you will almost certainly give one answer that you feel is less convincing than the others. Your academic interview is a high-stress situation, and to avoid tension that can throw your interview off track, it’s a good idea to think ahead about what to do when you feel you’ve given a weak answer.

Most importantly, don’t let one or two weaker answers interfere with the rest of the interview. Everyone has at least one answer they feel less confident about. That’s just the nature of an interview. You’re always going to think you nailed some responses and gave others that didn’t quite capture your greatness. Don’t stress about it. If your mind keeps returning to a previous answer, you won’t be thinking properly about the rest of your interview.

You have three good potential strategies, depending on how the interview unfolds.

First, you can simply keep going and  trust that the overall greatness of your well-prepared answers will average out into an impressive encounter for the interviewers.

Second, you can ask, “Did I answer your question?” If they want more, they’ll tell you, and sometimes when they ask for details they’ll do so in a way that gives you a clue about what to say. Some students feel they shouldn’t ask if they answered the interviewer’s question. They think it seems unprofessional, but it’s just the opposite. Indicating your awareness that you may not have delivered what they’re looking for shows your critical thinking in action. It makes you look confident and creates a pleasantly interactive interview. Don’t do it every time, but once or twice is ok.

Third, you can always return to an answer later in the interview if something more convincing comes to mind. At the end of another question, just say, “A moment ago you asked about what I hope to be doing in five years. I just wanted to add one thing….”

Finally, keep in mind that if you’re well-prepared and confident, one clunker of an answer is likely to leave little impression on the interviewers. They’ll remember your overall performance more than any one slightly weaker response. And just be glad that you probably won’t do any of the things Eric Hoover writes about in The Chronicle of Higher Education in “When Admissions Interviews Get Weird.”

Rawlings on the University Degree as a Commodity

One of the most talked-about ideas in higher education at the moment is the commodification of university degrees. If a degree is a commodity, then we should evaluate it based primarily on how expensive it is and how it affects our future earnings. The degree as commodity also positions the student as consumer. Students who see themselves as “consumers” of degrees believe that, as with any product, their education should be shaped according to their desires. The classes should be constantly entertaining and not too onerous, and the professors should be amiable pseudo-parents whose main role is to praise student efforts.

Hunter Rawlings’ recent article in The Washington Post, “College is not a commodity. Stop treating it like one,” is important reading for all current and potential university students. Rawlings is president of the Association of American Universities and former president of Cornell University and the University of Iowa. He gives the clearest argument I’ve seen yet about how a university degree is not a purchase that must please you, but rather an endeavour that must challenge you. You don’t pay your money and then sit back and be educated and entertained, as though you’re at a movie. Just the opposite. The success of your education depends upon your hard work and your willingness to be challenged by tough tasks and tougher ideas.

As Rawlings explains:

“The courses the student decides to take (and not take), the amount of work the student does, the intellectual curiosity the student exhibits, her participation in class, his focus and determination — all contribute far more to her educational “outcome” than the college’s overall curriculum, much less its amenities and social life. Yet most public discussion of higher ed today pretends that students simply receive their education from colleges the way a person walks out of Best Buy with a television.”

And he continues:

“If we are going to treat college as a commodity, and an expensive one at that, we should at least grasp the essence of its economic nature. Unlike a car, college requires the “buyer” to do most of the work to obtain its value. The value of a degree depends more on the student’s input than on the college’s curriculum. I know this because I have seen excellent students get great educations at average colleges, and unmotivated students get poor educations at excellent colleges. And I have taught classes which my students made great through their efforts, and classes which my students made average or worse through their lack of effort.”

I agree with Rawlings, and as an instructor I’ve felt the stark difference between groups of students who are eager to learn and be challenged, and groups who seem to believe their only responsibility in class is to occupy a chair.

If we perceive degrees as commodities, we lose sight of the value of intellectual challenge, and therefore of the essence of university life.

Your Daily Conciseness #11

Not concise:

Gardner’s earlier work describes complete economic stability as something that is impossible to achieve.

Concise:

Gardner’s earlier work describes complete economic stability as impossible.

Comment:

The segments “something that is” and “to achieve” add no meaning, and should therefore be omitted.

Your Daily Conciseness #10

Not concise:

The admissions committee will read many personal statements, and they want to gain the information in as efficient a manner as possible.

Concise:

The admissions committee will read many personal statements, and they want to gain the information as efficiently as possible.

Comment:

You don’t need to write “as efficient a manner,” because we know that “efficient” is a “manner” or “style.” This is like saying “She is trustworthy in character.” Instead, you can write “She is trustworthy,” because readers know that is a comment on her character.

List of Websites to Make You Smarter

I just found Jenna Goudreau’s list of “25 Websites that Will Make You Smarter” at Business Insider. The article, updated from an original by Maggie Zhang, lists some great finds. You’re sure to appreciate at least a few of them.

Coursera and edX are on there, and so is Khan Academy. All are leading sites for free online courses.

I’m also intrigued by duolingo. Learning languages is a huge challenge, and anything that can make it feel like a “fun, addictive game” is worth checking out.

Try a visit also to Fast Company’s 30-Second MBA. I’m always trying to pack new ideas into my mind, and sometimes there’s just time for a bite-sized morsel. A quick video with one great idea can give you something to ponder and build upon as you seize your day.

Take a look and see what else you find!

Your Daily Conciseness #9

Not concise:

Our company has been achieving acceptable growth rates, but the business environment in which we’re immersed may represent some obstacles. Customers are becoming increasingly demanding when it comes to service.

Concise:

Our company has been achieving acceptable growth rates, but customers are increasingly demanding when it comes to service.

Comment:

In this context, the phrase “the business environment in which we’re immersed may represent some obstacles” is just a more general and therefore less memorable way of saying what comes next: “Customers are becoming increasingly demanding when it comes to service.” Remove generalities and get to the point.

Notice that I also changed “are becoming increasingly demanding” to “are increasingly demanding.” The latter expresses the same meaning using fewer words.