You don’t need a suit to network

Turning friends and mere acquaintances into connections

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The old adage “it’s not the grades you make but the hands you shake,” has some truth to it. While GPA and extracurricular involvement are vital factors to obtaining the dream post-grad job, meeting the right people is equally important.

Because the University fosters a competitive environment filled with academic- and career-driven students, there is sometimes an overwhelming pressure to go to every career fair, jam-pack your resume and constantly update your LinkedIn profile in order to lock in the ideal summer internship. However, we often neglect the fact that connections can be made naturally — without deliberately networking — when we least expect it.

Last weekend, I accompanied a friend to her sorority parents’ formal with the sole intentions of donning a tux, enjoying a nice dinner at the Boar’s Head and frequenting the cash-bar as much as possible. After the dinner bell rang, people shifted from the cocktail reception to their tables by the hundreds. Because the room was so loud from the mingling of voices, it was only possible to converse with the two people sitting directly next to me without getting a sore throat by the end of the night.

The dad to my right — whom I hadn’t met before — engaged in some small talk with me, asking about my hometown, what drew me to the University and my experience thus far. Our conversation flowed into my academic interests, and I told him that I was considering following in my parents’ footsteps and pursuing law school after graduation. It was then that he and his wife turned to each other, smiled and informed me that they were both UCLA Law grads and practicing attorneys. He, a former federal prosecutor, and his wife, a trial lawyer, were both passionate about the legal profession and allowed me to pick their brains about their respective career paths for the entirety of dinner. By the end of the night, I had a business card in hand and a brand-new LinkedIn connection. 

Similarly, a  friend of mine found her summer internship at a time and place she never would have anticipated — 1:00 a.m. on her way to a frat party. Walking along Madison Lane, she struck up a conversation with a well-dressed University graduate who was back on Grounds just prior to her wedding. My friend, an A-school student with hopes of becoming a fashion designer, commented on the woman’s elegant outfit. With a “thanks” and a smile, she informed my friend that she worked in the fashion industry and had just started her own brand marketing company in New York City.

By the end of their walk, the two had shared pictures of their work, chatted about their artistic interests and exchanged phone numbers. Two months later, my friend found herself sitting in the Manhattan office of the woman’s startup as an intern. And since — via her spontaneous and random introduction on a Friday night out — she has made numerous other connections that have helped her get established in the fashion industry.

The president of a club I belong to was working out at her CrossFit class, overheated and exhausted, when a man approached her and commented on her Virginia t-shirt. He identified himself as a double-Hoo — having completed both his undergrad at the University and his MBA at Darden — and the current dean of a small business school in Virginia Beach, Va. My friend, a fourth-year Economics major interested in applying to grad school within the next few years, asked countless questions about job opportunities and admissions advice. While they were too sweaty to shake hands, they exchanged information and at their next class, she convinced him to venture back to his alma mater to lead a discussion on business school admissions for our club.

While it’s important to take measured steps to achieve your career goals, it’s equally vital to keep in mind that sometimes opportunities unintentionally fall into your lap. Networking via the traditional routes is wise and effective, but if you have the right mindset, you can meet your future boss just about anywhere. 

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