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Lessons in networking: a student shares how
Students from the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, accompanied by Professor Sharifa Wilkinson (far left) and Dean Michael Cheng (far right), at a networking event designed to help young people improve their networking skills and suggest ways to find a mentor.

Lessons in networking: a student shares how

April 18, 2024 at 11:14am

In today’s dynamic academic landscape, networking is a vital tool in a student’s journey toward professional success. Through alumni mixers, career fairs and industry events, FIU presents many ways for students to build meaningful connections. But how does one do it well?

Daniella Ramos, a graduate student in the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management mega events program, appreciates the chance to network but admits, “I would find myself bewildered when I first attended these meetings. Never sure of whom to talk to and imposter syndrome having me second guess my presence among industry professionals made it difficult for me to maximize my opportunities.”

Now a bit more seasoned, she shares tips on how students can best take advantage of meeting those within the industry they hope to enter. Read on for advice that students of any major can use.

Daniella Ramos
Daniella Ramos

The more I engage in networking gatherings, the better I understand how to make them work for me. The last such event I attended was hosted by by NextUp, an organization working to empower women in the workplace, and held at the Miami City Ballet Dance Center in Miami Beach. A panel of hospitality executives talked about the value of networking and finding a mentor, and I picked up several insights.

Create a prep list. Before you attend an event, prepare yourself for what to expect. Research the event and which organization is hosting it. If there is a formal program, learn something about the speakers. This information will help you set a goal.  

Goals could include finding a potential mentor, getting a lead on an internship or job, interacting with at least three new people or building a community. At the NextUp event, my goal was to meet the moderator of the panel, Gabriela Neves, co-founder and president of Factory 360, an "experiential marketing agency," so that I could learn more about her path as I carve out my own. 

Meanwhile, practice your elevator pitch – you know, that 30-second introduction that helps you make a connection with someone – to use with whomever you meet while in the check-in line, grabbing refreshments or waiting for the program to start. Have your business cards or a virtual QR code ready with all your information, so you can easily share it. After all, that’s why you are there!

Take up space in the room. With a clear objective and basic knowledge of what to look forward to, it is important to have the confidence to achieve your goal, which sounds easier than it sounds.  

“Make your presence known,” exclaimed Chantell Ghosh, chief marketing officer for the Miami City Ballet, who gave us an excellent suggestion, and one that I have been trying to follow for a while now.

When I first began attending networking events, I only spoke to my friends as I felt too intimidated to engage with industry leaders. Ghosh made it clear that professionals who attend networking events are excited to interact with the future leaders of the industry and are more than willing to talk with students and even offer help.  

Then she encouraged attendees to practice approaching unfamiliar people by leading us in a ballet warm-up routine – which literally required that we take up space as we stretched our bodies. We broke into small groups for this exercise and had to strike up conversations with those around us as we challenged ourselves both mentally and physically.

I have a few ways that I like to use to initiate a conversation. If I wish to talk to a guest speaker, for example, I might approach them to express how their comments impacted me. That usually allows me a chance to ask them a question or even share my own story and aspirations. Or I might offer another attendee a compliment about, say, their cool smartphone case or sharp outfit. Just make sure that what you say is true and authentic, and the conversation should go smoothly.

Follow up. Turn your first impression into a lasting impression. Dig through the business cards you collected and add everyone to your contact list and social media platforms, especially LinkedIn. Send people a personalized message conveying what you learned from the event and how great it was to meet them.

Most of the C-suite level executives and industry professionals attending networking events want students to approach them and connect on social media platforms to help cultivate the next generation of leaders, explained panelist Darin Dougan, the chief marketing officer for the Jimmy John's sandwich chain. 

And, he continued, keep the conversation going after that first meeting and foster relationships that could lead to finding a mentor, someone who will identify your “spark” and help realize your full potential.

As for me, I did achieve my goal for the NextUp event by making a connection with Factory 360's Gabriela Neves. I also met Valerie Regis, regional marketing manager at The Coca-Cola Company. Who knows? Maybe those introductions will pay off as I my hunt for the perfect internship begins!