AlumNight: Networking Doesn’t Have to be Intimidating

How to network with purpose means you’re not there to ask for favours but to make connections. The right connections

Looking for a job? You better start networking. Have a job and want to keep it? You better start networking. Hob-nobbing, schmoozing, networking — call it what you will but it’s a critical lifelong skill, especially if job security is questionable. In theory, we know all this yet so many of us continue to moan about the stress behind the practice of networking. Some say it’s because we feel morally compromised, or ‘iffy,’  about putting one’s self interest ahead of any kind of higher purpose.

Well, we in Alumni think we should all get over it. Precisely why the theme behind an upcoming AlumNight is networking — full stop. At the wrap of the 2.5-hour evening event you should know how to not only make networking productive but energizing, as well as how to diversify your network and make the process a valuable two-way street.

Rather than gather advice from just one person, the Mar. 18 event at Inglewood’s Ol’Beautiful Brewery will showcase networking hacks from a panel of five: Two Olympic hopefuls (Jessica O’Connell, MSc’16, and Sam Effah, BComm’14,); career coach Brian Palmer, BComm’06; recent athlete ambassador for Team Canada, Shacarra Orr, BA’19, and management consultant Sarah Damberger, BA’13. With five radically different perspectives, the lively team of recent alumni will tell you how they gained traction in their careers, and lives, by leveraging their networks effectively.

Here are a few networking tips in advance of the event — and remember meeting people, face to face, is still the best way to land your next job. So, join us!

  • “When networking, have the goal of 'making friends,'” recommends Sam Effah, two-time Canadian 100m Champion who’s training for the 2020 Games.  “When you project that you're trying to get something, people often become less authentic.  When you genuinely look for a connection, I find conversation comes naturally.  Take the pressure off yourself in trying to benefit and truly get to know individuals.”
  • “Athletes learn to tell their story in a concise and captivating manner, but I am going to show people how anyone can do that,” says Jessica O’Connell, full-time track and field athlete who represented Canada in the 2016 Olympics and is currently training for Tokyo and runs an online coaching business called Grit Coaching. “People need to remember that networking is mutually beneficial — you are not just selling yourself or begging for favours. You are forming a potential relationship that benefits both parties, that’s why it’s important to know your value proposition.”
  • “Play the long game,” advises Brian Palmer, a.k.a. a ‘career whisperer.’ “Treat your reputation like gold; pursue quality of contacts over quantity; be genuinely curious in coffee meetings and phone calls; it’s not about the job — it’s about the relationship.”
  • Be yourself!  People want to connect with you on a level that’s not just work,” suggests Shacarra Orr, who retired from sitting volleyball in 2017 and is now an athlete ambassador for Tokyo 2020. “Feel free to talk about your hobbies to make that connection. Employers are looking for people they can enjoy being around every day.  You are human so show that side. And have a 30-minute elevator pitch planned for yourself.” 
  • “Ask people for a business card,” adds Sarah Damberger, who not only works as a consultant for Stack’d Consulting Inc., but is also a director on the national board of Amnesty International Canada. “And don’t expect them to follow up with you. If you want to stay connected with someone, put in the effort and ‘don’t be afraid to make the first move.’ And follow up promptly with a quick email or a LinkedIn note — ideally within a week of meeting them and remind them where you first connected.”

Besides sharing personal anecdotes, the panel will also impart advice plus, there will be plenty of opportunity to test out your new networking skills in a speed-networking game. AlumNight is a program for UCalgary alumni who have graduated within the last 10 years. Discover more here.