How would you define networking in your own words?
I would define networking as building relationships with people and making a strong relationship with people to learn and grow from them beneficially.
Do you believe that undergraduates should begin to build a professional network while in college?
Absolutely! That’s truly the way of the world. It’s tough out here nowadays, and there’s no singular way of getting a job at this point. Building up that network can also teach students how to be a little bit more extraverted and get from behind their phones to talk to people. That is very very important.
What challenges would you associate with networking?
The communication part can be difficult. A lot of students express themselves so well through text messages, writing, and email but using interpersonal communication skills up front and in person is very important. Also, understanding what building a long term relationship looks like and what it fosters into is essential. It fosters into support, sisterhood or brotherhood, or an excellent working relationship. It may not necessarily benefit you in the long run, but it could benefit your friends or your family members, you never know. I’m always big on fostering good relationships.
Can you tell me about a time you intentionally networked?
Yes! to get my job here at Georgia State University! I had been in the corporate world for 8+ years as a human resources professional. I did everything from operations recruiting to HR, and I was DRAINED! I spent years trying to figure out what I really wanted to do. How could I mix my HR skills with something else?
I figured it out, and that was to work in somebody’s career services office to teach people how to prepare for the workforce: what to do and what not to do during the interview process, and how their resumes needed to look. I wanted to be that person because I saw too many people come into my office that were unprepared, not ready, and didn’t know what to do. After that epiphany, it took me a good four years to get here.
A particular contractor worked with me for a long time. Throughout the years, we kept in contact, and we ended up becoming really good friends. One day, she got a job at Georgia State University as a graduate coach. I knew when she got this job that I was in there. I wasn’t sure how exactly, but I knew that I had networked with her enough while she was a contractor at my old company to find a job at this new company (Georgia State). As soon as she got the job, I told her, “you know, if you do see anything that you think I’d be a good fit for, I’ll send you my resume. I’ll send it to you now but [I’ll send it again.]" A whole year and a half passed before anything ever came up. But when my position did, she sent my resume to the hiring managers. They told me that a hundred people had applied to the job. However, hands down, my resume and what I brought to the table was outstanding. I was so pleased. They interviewed me on a Tuesday, and hired me on a Thursday.
I had great networking in place, and I had found something I wanted to do. It took four years, but I waited, and I had to be patient.
Can you tell me about a time you unintentionally networked?
In the past, I worked at RaceTrac Petroleum. My aunt worked in HR for years at Lowe's Home Improvement. One year, she moved to Georgia and became an HR manager at one of the stores. I kept telling her “auntie, I need you to understand that I can do this job.” She still saw me as a baby and saw nothing of it until I sent her my resume. When she saw it, she realized that I could. She sent my resume in, I got an interview, and the rest was history. The interview was actually on the day of my 6th anniversary at RaceTrac, and Lowe’s called me two weeks later. I got the job! I didn’t think anything would happen because my aunt saw me as just her niece, but I’m really glad she took a look at my resume.
Do you have any networking pet peeves?
Yes, one of my pet peeves is when people are looking at their phones while they are talking to me. Also, when people have too much stuff in their hands. You have to let a hand free because you’ll need to shake hands. It’s okay to be nervous but sometimes its courteous to put your things to the side so you can be open, free, and comfortable. That way, you won't feel or seem so uptight.”
Look at your major, the student organizations that are related to your major, and attend events at the career advancement center. Our events provide a smooth segue into networking. We want to make sure that the student is comfortable. So even if they're going to practice and ask us for some advice, we’ll be here. Let's not forget professors as well. They have a wealth of knowledge.
If you could say one thing about networking, what would it be?
Networking is a state of mind. It’s where you want to be and where you want to grow, and it won’t grow unless you water it. You have to practice. You have to put yourself out there, go ahead and deal with the sweaty palms and the nervousness. The more you practice, the easier it gets.
More about the interviewee:
La'Kesha M Hughes
Senior Undergraduate Career Coach
J. Mack Robinson College of Business
Georgia State University