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.”

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.

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.

Your Daily Conciseness #8

Not concise:

These are situations in which there is not very much social interaction.

Concise:

These situations lack social interaction.

Comment:

The key to writing concisely is often using a verb with a sharp and clear meaning to replace a longer way of expressing the same thing.

Building Skill in Asking Questions

Being able to ask relevant questions is one of the most important academic skills. It helps you understand topics more deeply, allows you to demonstrate your critical thinking skills, and usually leads to improved participation marks.

With a little practice, you can learn to ask good questions about anything.

When the professor asks if the class has any questions, you’ll make a good impression if you often have a question prepared. As long as you’re listening carefully and thinking critically and creatively, you can come up with questions for almost anything.

Certainly you should be able to ask questions after reading any journal article or listening to a presentation or discussion. Once you’ve built your skills, you’ll discover you can ask meaningful questions about even the simplest things.

Here’s an example:

I ate eggs for breakfast this morning.

Now ask some questions…

Did you enjoy the eggs?

How were they prepared?

Do you like the yolk runny or firm?

Do you often eat eggs for breakfast?

Have you ever tried eggs benedict?

Did you eat at home or at a restaurant?

What else did you eat with the eggs?

Do you put salt on your eggs?

Do you ever have eggs for dinner?

What is your favourite egg dish?

That’s ten questions (and that’s just a start) about one seven-word sentence. Sure, it’s easier to ask questions about something you’re familiar with, like eating eggs, but if you can ask ten or more questions about such a simple statement, then you must be able to ask at least two or three questions about an article or presentation.

One of the best ways to build skills in asking questions is simply to practice. Whenever you read an article or watch a program or presentation, practice asking questions. Here are three question-asking strategies to get you started: probe for more detail, clear up ambiguity and inquire about important missing information.

And don’t forget who, what, when, where, why and how!