Kirsten Henagin and Kjerstin Engebretson, my friends and role models, put on an event in January called Prep U. When I helped advertise for it, students asked me when it was, why they should go, and how much it would cost. Keep in mind, most students are lazy and don’t like to pay for things. For instance, they text their roommates instead of walking into the next room. They take giant roles of toilet paper from public restrooms, so they don’t have to go to pay for it. Because of this mentality, it was not easy to convince these same students to pay for and attend a day long event, on a Saturday. Nevertheless, I told them about the food, the t-shirt, and the complementary Pad folio. My sales pitch: “You can learn about loans, debt, and retirement – save thousands in the future for just a few dollars and a few hours of your time now!”
When it was finally the big day, I didn’t care. All I wanted to do was stay in bed, but I had made a promise. Although guilt is not a very noble incentive, I am glad it got me to the event and to Annie Wood’s concurrent session. Annie works for Emerging Prairie, and her session was supposed to be on networking; instead, she explained the concept of connecting. Here lies the chief distinction: When people network, they generally do so to forward their own careers, but when people connect, the goal is to form relationships. Connecting is mentioning your friends name when you hear of an opportunity that would fit them. Connecting goes beyond small talk and allows the community to match resources with needs. Connecting takes the pressure out of conversations and allows for more authentic relationships. The same kind of relationships that motivated you to act, to get out of bed on a Saturday.
Prep U was a blur of keynote speakers, concurrent sessions, and networking. By the end of it, I felt like hiding in my room and watching Netflix for days. I had no idea how much I had absorbed until the following week when I began to reach out to the people I had met. Reflecting on this idea of connecting, I realized I had never gotten a job from networking. I thought of the old saying, “it’s not what you know it’s who you know,” and I realized it’s not necessarily who you know it’s how you know them. From my teammate who texted me years after swimming together about a job, to my boss saying semi-jokingly, “I’m hiring you because I know your mom.” I began to see the value of making deeper connections.
I began to intentionally pursue deeper conversations. I reached out to speakers whenever their words resonated with me. I tracked down emails and addresses and risked rejection. I spoke with administrative assistants and shuffled around my calendar to schedule coffee dates and lunches. I asked about career paths, and I always followed up with a handwritten thank you card.
Everything I put into this effort, was worth it. As I wrote the thank you’s, I internalized the conversations I’d had and began to see that each meeting was filled with lessons. Months after Prep U, I understood how much of a pivot point it was – how much of an impact Annie Wood had made. Her words sparked a journey of connecting and consequently impacted my world-view and my self-awareness. Since connecting has proven to be so useful in my life, I wanted to share my experiences, and this series is the result.
Weekly Wisdom will focus on the value of connection. It will aim to inform, entertain, and possibly inspire you.
Written By: Career Peer Ahna
Do you network or do you connect? How has this impacted your employment opportunities? Let us know what you think!