The SILS Alumni Association held a speed networking event earlier this week. It's the second one I attended and, although fewer students showed up this year than last year, I thought it went very well.The "mentors" -- either SILS alums or local folks working in the IS/LS domains who have ties to SILS -- sat inside a U-shaped line of tables, while the students moved from chair to chair every 3 minutes at the ring of Pavlov's bell. Here are some thoughts on what I liked about it and why I think the experience was valuable.
- It gets you talking to people. We're not, after all, the business or performing arts school. We're mostly a group of introverts, some of us more sociable than others, granted, but it's tough to get us talking to strangers. A 3-minute speed-networking event with the emphasis on communication and fact-finding levels the playing field wonderfully and I think gets people talking with an urgency they wouldn't have at a polite meet'n'greet.
- You learn to start marketing yourself. With only 3 minutes total, I had to hone my spiel to something quick so that we could actually discover whether we had much to say to each other. It took me about 4 or 5 tries to get this right, and even then, I tweaked it based on the feedback I received. Unnatural, perhaps, but is a job interview more natural? The only way to get better is to practice, and this event provided that.
- You learn some basic chat skills. See "talking to people" above. Because I'm IS (Information Science), and the majority of mentors there were LS (Library Science), I'd sometimes fall back to standard questions: "Tell me about your library," "What kind of work do you do," that kind of thing, to make them feel OK about talking to to an obvious interloper. Alas, I was flummoxed when, just as I was finishing my screed, the young woman I was talking to smiled and asked, "Do you like working with children?" Ah, a children's librarian! We both laughed but I'm embarrassed to say I never recovered my aplomb and fum-fuh'd till the bell rang.
- Overview of the local field and the profession generally. By talking to lots of people working at different places, it's possible to gauge the health of the local market and get peoples' takes on the profession as a whole. Will there be jobs available when I eventually graduate? Where's the demand? What are some of the problems they're having to figure out? You can absorb very quickly a range of job descriptions and experiences. I also could feel myself, as I talked to folks, get excited or a little bored by the subject matter of the conversation. With no time to indulge in the deep thinking we INTJs like to wallow in, I reacted honestly to the subjects I'm more naturally interested in. (And yes, I am separating the message from the messenger here, not confusing one with the other.)
- It's encouraging to be encouraged. I do feel doubt occasionally about why I'm at school sometimes, as I entered it on a leap of faith, with no assurance of what I'd be doing with this degree when I finally got it. But several people reassured me that the skills I've acquired over the last 20 years, added to my education and interests, will help me when I eventually move into whatever field I choose. Made me feel much better about my choice.