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Communications alumni emphasize the virtues of networking

That person you meet at a journalism conference? He's a connection. That person you meet at a late-night party? She's a connection. Those instructors teaching your classes throughout the day? They're connections.

Everyone you meet, in fact, could be a potential connection for you later in life, according to four Communications alumni who spoke to a packed room of undergraduate and graduate students Feb. 15 as part of a panel discussion titled “How to Win Friends and Influence Your Career.” The panel kicked off Elon University’s Professional Discovery Week, which runs from Feb. 15-18.

All panelists agreed that networking was a necessary component of their job and internship searches. They acknowledged that students can’t be afraid to meet people and, most importantly, remember people.

“Networking is a great way to start,” said Scott Gustafson, a 2000 grad who works as an associate producer at ESPN. “No matter what you’re doing, people will look at you. How you’re perceived matters.”

Joining Gustafson were Olivia Hubert-Allen ’09, an online producer with the Virginian Pilot, Beth Roberts ’07, an associate at APCO Worldwide, and Tom Mullen ’00, the director of interactive marketing at EMI Records. The panelists often echoed each other’s points about valuing the associations they made throughout their college years and beyond. Even the loosest link can prove fruitful down the road.

Here’s Mullen: “Everybody I’ve met, be it from the first day at Elon to someone last week, I will not forget who they are. It’s definitely useful. I haven’t used my resume in a while. It’s all word of mouth.”

And Roberts: “I don’t think it’s unique to any specific region or any specific business that networking is vital to getting a job. You never know who you’re going to meet and how they’re going to come back into your life.”

Finally, Hubert-Allen: “Even though I didn’t get anything out of the networks I made at conferences, I still to talk to them. Keep that rolodex full. Treat everyone with respect and treat everyone like they’ll be your boss someday because they could be.”

Roberts said she writes pieces of information on the back of business cards she receives to help spur her memory about people she meets. Hubert-Allen does the same, but she’s digitized it to make it more accessible for her.

And while it’s important that students make contacts with professionals in the hopes of landing internships and jobs, Gustafson warned not to ask directly for a job. His advice: Send an e-mail that explicitly mentions the kind of work you’re looking for and lists some of your biographical and background information.

Oh, yeah. And “thank yous and follow ups are nice,” he added.

One of the first opportunities students get to make professional connections is at an internship. How well students perform there, the panelists agreed, will establish their respective reputations.

“You need to produce quality work, beyond what’s expected from an intern,” Hubert-Allen said. “You’re proving yourself to be flexible and able to do a multitude of tasks.”

Mullen said that interns who work an hour a day and spend their time working on personal projects never get a feel for the company and basically demonstrate they don’t want to be there. Those who work several hours, though, and remain dedicated to the work they’re assigned show they are invested in the organization.

“I can tell within two weeks if (interns) are going to make it,” Mullen said.

And for the interns who do make it, well, they’ve forged lasting connections and added to their network, which will pay off for them in the future.

“Focus on your friendships, focus on the connections you’re making here,” Roberts said. “Focus on the here and now and focus on your next immediate step.”

Colin Donohue,
2/16/2010 7:29 AM