Networking Anxiety

By Casey McAlpin on March 27, 2013

Networking has been a constant theme of my internship at CGS this semester. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I have been networking, but it does mean that I know I should be. Mrs. Lyall-Combs is constantly urging the interns to network in all situations; with parents at World Stories Alive, professors that attend Brown Bag Lectures, and pretty much everyone that we meet. I know networking is vital, especially because my internship last summer was a direct result of talking to my friend’s dad about my career goals but to most college students, networking sometimes feels like a dirty word.

Last Thursday, my fellow intern Katie and I decided to work up some courage and attend a networking event for the College of the Liberal Arts. Did the fact that we knew Mrs. Lyall-Combs would be proud of us play a role in our attendance? Yes. Being the punctual, responsible students that we are, we arrived ten minutes early. This also meant that we were the first students there, which immediately sent both of us into a panic. Did we go hide in the bathroom until more people showed up? Maybe. For the record, we know we’re pathetic.

I don’t know why this is a meme but Katie- they’re talking about us

The important point is that we stuck on our nametags, put on a brave face and decided to network. The event started with a quick talk by a College of the Liberal Arts graduate. He reminded us about eye contact, firm handshakes, and body language. He also gave us a few talking points. The speaker told us to talk about things that were easy to relate to. He suggested that guys should make conversation with other professional men about March Madness, meanwhile the female students could talk to other women about their hair and shoes. While I don’t think the comment was meant to be rude, it seemed blatantly sexist and made me feel more uncomfortable in this networking situation than I already was. So what if I let the school with the funniest name win my March Madness bracket? (Valparaiso all the way. Yes, I know they already lost. Girls can make jokes too.). I can however, school anyone in football trivia any day. Furthermore, I wouldn’t have had any problem starting a conversation by complementing a woman’s outfit but I definitely wasn’t going to do so after the speaker told me that was my gender’s designated conversation starter.


 Valpo’s Mascot- It’s as great as the name

I moved past it though because I knew this networking event could be an important opportunity for me, especially as a senior rapidly approaching graduation and unemployment, despite my countless job applications floating around in cyberspace. I was especially excited to attend this networking event because it was for Liberal Arts majors specifically. People ask me what I’m going to do with my international relations major all of the time, and although I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do, I was looking forward to seeing what graduates from my major had accomplished professionally. I opened up the event’s program that listed the alumni that were attending and that was when I learned there wasn’t a single graduate from my major. As you can tell, this network event wasn’t exactly going my way.


Nevertheless, there were political science majors there, which Katie and I decided was close enough, so we were staying positive. The alumni were clustered around tables with signs that indicated their professional field. There were tables for lawyers, government employees, and to my surprise non-profit professionals. That’s when I really gained some confidence and got excited to network. I’ve been applying to entry-level positions at non-profits and NGOs and I had a ton of questions about the job search process. I was especially looking forward to getting some advice on how to tailor my resume and cover letters for these types of positions. Well guess what? Nobody was at the non-profit table. I was even tricked by a woman who approached the table and asked me if I wanted to talk to a non-profit professional. When I exclaimed, “Yes! I do!” she informed me that she was a lawyer on her way to her designated table, but she hoped someone would come my way soon.

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I’m quickly approaching the evil “graduation” point

So I didn’t walk away from the networking event with a job or a handful of business cards like I had imagined but I did walk away from it with confidence, which is equally important. I can get past my nerves and talk to strangers (commonly known as networking) and I can enjoy it once I stop freaking myself out. Maybe at the next networking event Katie and I won’t even have panic attacks.

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