“Networking” seems to have a negative connotation for college students. What we fail to realize is, as the social millennials that we are, we are networking and naturally making connections with people and places every day. However, make it a formal event and we seem to clam up and forget how to simply be ourselves. Being an effective networker may take practice, but we can also use our everyday communication skills to be authentic and make meeting professionals an enjoyable experience.

On October 6th, the Undergraduate Student Association held a networking event with Canisius College alumni for senators, cabinet members, and USA representatives. Arguably, this event started off “easier” (for lack of a better word) since I knew walking into conversations with professionals in attendance that we had at least one thing in common – being a student at Canisius at some point in time. The professionals, who ranged from healthcare administrators, to finance analysts, to higher education administrators, all first introduced themselves, which was helpful because then we had a better idea of who we might be interested in talking with that evening. Additionally, they had round tables set up with areas of interest such as finance, marketing, healthcare, etc., which helped to connect students with professionals in their respective fields.

The first individual I spoke with that night was the Vice President of Financial Services at M&T Bank. No professionals were at the Marketing/Public Relations table so he approached the group of students waiting at the table. I saw the job title on his name tag, screamed a little inside, and thought, “As a communication studies and psychology major how on earth am I ever going to find something to talk to this man about? I know nothing about finance! AH!” I do not think my internal freak-out showed on my face, and we actually ended up having a great conversation. I started talking to him about my position at Roswell planning the black tie benefit since his company, M&T Bank, was the presenting sponsor. He knew all about the event and was excited to attend. As the presenting sponsor, they donate $30,000 for the event! Naturally, he had a lot to say about financing charitable contributions, which was interesting to hear about because I didn’t know a lot about how that works. Much to my surprise, I was able to hold an intellectual, engaging, and beneficial conversation with the VP of Financial Services. Now I know not to judge whether or not I should converse with someone simply based on their job title because, who knows, we might have something in common to talk about after all.

Later in the night I ended up at the beverage table with one of my friends. We were watching one of the alum snap “selfies” and, indeed, got a good laugh out of it. Since starting conversations with new people can be awkward and you never know where to start, I turned to my friend and suggested we go hop in the man’s selfie and use that as a way to start up a conversation. As the extroverted kid he is, my friend gladly agreed. The man got a huge hit out of our excitement and willingness to get involved, and it was the perfect, non-awkward transition into an introduction and networking conversation. Come to find out the man was Glenn Weber, Director of Alumni Engagement at Canisius College. My friend and I both expressed interest in working on the non-clinical side of healthcare and ironically, Glenn had previous experience at Catholic Health in a leadership role. He worked alongside nurse leaders as Director of Perioperative Operations and stressed the importance of having both clinical and non-clinical leaders work together to represent all sides of a healthcare issue. It was great to hear what kind of responsibilities he had and how integration and cohesion are keys to a successful department. We also had a pretty serious conversation about Mighty Taco and all its wonderfulness. After all, professionals are human too and just want to grab a taco with their wife (sans kids) after a long day. It was refreshing to have a humorous, light-hearted conversation accompany the “serious” professional talk. I am happy I went a little out of my comfort zone, with the help of my animated friend, and approached Glenn in a non-traditional way. Hopefully this will make us stick out in his mind and be remembered!

The most important thing for me to remember about networking is to simply be myself. Professionals, whether you want to be in the same career field as them or not, just want to see an authentic, passionate individual. By being yourself, it opens the door to a flow of natural conversation. Whether said conversation is about charitable contributions or fast food chain restaurants, connections are better formed when based on genuineness and openness.