March 10, 2017

Networking: Take a moment, look around.

Hoa Nguyen ’18

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What comes to your mind when you hear “networking”? A room full of strangers? Professional business attire? Handshakes? Business cards? A paralyzing fear of awkward conversation?

OK, hopefully not that last one, true though it may be. As a junior, soon to be jumping into my senior year, I suggest you put those clichéd notions aside. Networking is not as bad as you might think. And it can even be quite different from what you think. My path to debunking networking myths has been paved by my friends, colleagues and other amazing people that I’ve met at Mount Holyoke. Look no further: Much needed help is already around you.

View out upper window at Laurel Chain parade preparations

Stirring a cauldron

About a year ago I was dealing with, in my opinion, the most dreadful part of the “sophomore crisis” package: finding a summer internship. As a sophomore, it seemed like I was stirring a cauldron of unpreparedness, with a pinch of experience and a generous sprinkle of high hopes. Every opportunity seemed open to upper-class people only.

Additionally, as an international student with a special major in journalism, I doubted that I would have a chance to work anywhere in the United States so early in my college career. Such worries still strike me quite often, even now, because I’m well aware of both my capabilities and limitations in terms of language proficiency and cultural background.

MHC students take part in Pangy Day festivities

A surprise, courtesy of optimism and encouragement

Throwback to my proudest accomplishment to date: by late April 2016, I was overjoyed — and totally surprised — to receive an editorial internship offer from the New York–based Women’s eNews.

I initially learned about this MHConnect curated internship opportunity through my career advisor at the Career Development Center (CDC). Women’s eNews was to be one of the destinations of an upcoming Mount Holyoke’s Lynk on the Road journalism career trek to New York City. But due to an on-campus commitment, I ended up missing this site visit. Further, I forgot to ask someone about how things went. (Bonus tip: Always follow up!)

MHC students at Women's eNews for Lynk on the Road, NYCMHC students visit Women's eNews, spring 2016, as part of the Lynk on the Road journalism career trek to New York City.

However, during a cover letter review session at the CDC, my career advisor reminded me about Women’s eNews. We looked online for any internship postings. As expected, the preferred class years were juniors and seniors, which technically meant it would be too early for me to be a successful candidate. At least that was how I perceived it.

Luckily, I wasn’t alone at this point. With her contagious optimism, my career advisor encouraged me to reach out directly to the managing editor and ask if I could submit an application. I had nothing to lose, so I took advantage of her reference contact and wrote an inquiry letter.

A few weeks later, I received a green light to apply to Women’s eNews, and did so. Two weeks later, I was invited to their New York office. After this visit, I waited. And I waited. And waited a little bit more. Great news finally arrived, just one day before Pangy Day. (Did I mention that there was a wait? Don’t worry, it’s a normal part of the process!)

Detail of the ribbons on the Pangy Day maypole

Positively productive networking

Fast forward to the present, spring 2017. I’m back to square one, going through the internship search process all over again. This time though, I know to be even more open with my friends and colleagues about my aspirations. While they may not be able to regularly supply something as straightforward as a job posting, that’s not what you’ll need most of the time.

More often than not, you’ll need that extra boost of confidence and assurance to hang on tight. I sincerely don’t know how I would have survived college if it weren’t for all of the positive and kinds words from my friends and colleagues.

The point is, there’s no need to think about networking in a strictly professional setting. Yes, we are often told to “think big.” But why not also consider the opposite?

A small group of MHC students

Think small. Think about the people you interact with every day. Think about the ones who want you to succeed and would go out of their way to support you. They are your keen eyes and ears in this already overwhelming universe. Tell them your wildest hopes and dreams. Over dinner, share with them the tiny steps you take every day to get there. Remind them of your progress when you finally unglue your eyes from that 15-something-page paper. Spare some down time to chat and talk it out.

To me, that’s productive networking. No fancy attire required, just you and the most important people to you, right here, right now.

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Hoa Nguyen ’18 designed a special major in journalism and is also pursuing a minor in French. On campus, she writes for The Mount Holyoke News and works as a peer advisor at the Career Development Center. When not writing, she loves spending time with her sisters in the Vietnamese Student Association and with members of the MHC fencing team. Nguyen, who hails from Hanoi, Vietnam, hopes to be a foreign correspondent in the future.
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