What I Learned After My First Networking Event

Last week I attended the Eastern North Carolina Career Convention held at NC State University which is intended to connect college students in the Raleigh area with potential employers, or in my case internship opportunities. As a 19 year old “kid” I attended this event to get a head start on the competition (yes, it’s a competition) and just to explore some of the opportunities in my area. Here’s what I learned from this event:

There’s no such thing as too young. I’m only 19 so why am I at an event intended for juniors and seniors trying start their careers? Because I’m starting my career too. Sure, some of the company reps at the event turned me away quickly simply because of my inexperience, but the ones that didn’t liked the fact that I was a “young and enthusiastic” marketing student trying to get an early start on my career. Even though I had little experience I got contact information for marketing directors at a few companies purely off of potential.

No pressure. When the event started I casually walked around to see who was there, then I went and sat on a sofa in the lobby, took some notes (more about notes below), checked my social media feeds, and eventually went back in to actually talk to people. As I was sitting in the lobby I noticed people were nervous to go into the main area and I was confused as of why. Should I be nervous to talk to these people? Yesterday I was reflecting and I realized it was because those people needed jobs, they were seniors in college who didn’t know what their future was going to look like. Then there was me, just there because I wanted to make a few connections, and in a weird reverse psychological type of way, I was the one that looked like a professional. I was talking to company reps in a casual manner, even having full conversations with some. I had literally nothing to be nervous about, I still have 3–4 years left, and the way I talked to people showed that.

Create some form of contact information. I’m only on my third semester of college so I don’t have any real qualifications or years of experience in my field, therefore I don’t have a ton of information for a resume, so I didn’t bother making one. Like I said, I was just there to make connections for internships but then it turned out some companies were interested and asked for contact information. At this point I had to do the awkward write it on the back of a random piece of paper thing. The next day I worked up a simple resume and realized I have more work experience than I thought. I worked three different jobs throughout high school and they all taught valuable skills that companies look for, so I included them in my resume along with skills I’ve taught myself (such as HTML code). Even writing on Medium (or any type of blog) showcases writing skills and is great to include on a resume.

Your attire can make or break you. I don’t care who it is, whenever a person sees you they’re already formulating an opinion about you even if you’ve never spoken to them before. I noticed some students at the event were noticeably under dressed and even if they were the best job candidates in the room, their appearance was holding them back. Luckily I have some great mentors at my university that made sure I looked the part and I feel like it made it easier to talk to company reps. Before I ever said a word I was already making an impression on someone that might be hiring me in the future.

Take lots of notes. I take notes all day 5 days a week so I planned on getting away from that for a day, but one of my business professors recommended I bring a small notepad with me to write down my thoughts, so I did. I felt like the nerdy kid in the room, writing down everything going on around me, but it allowed me to keep track of what companies fit me and offered what I was looking for. Don’t take notes on your phone by the way, some people were doing it at the event and it just looked like they were texting and didn’t want to be there.

Most importantly, stand out from the crowd. Whether you like it or not, everyone around you is your competition. The job recruiting process reminds me a lot of my football recruiting process. In football, recruiters are looking for unique skills that can help their team, and the one that can help them the most gets a scholarship offer. Company recruiters do very much of the same thing, whoever possesses the right mixture of varying skills that can help a business will probably get the job. Whatever it may be, try to stand out from the rest of the crowd so a potential employer will remember you.

This event was a pleasant introduction to the coming career phase in my life and I learned various things that will assist me going forward. I highly recommend getting out into the “real world” if you’re a younger college student and see what the job landscape in your field is like.

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