6 Networking Tips For Graduate Students: What I Learned About Networking & Making Connections At the Industry Showcase
Written by Chris Sroka.
On June 21st the Centre for Digital Media hosted its 10th annual Industry Showcase, to demonstrate MDM students’ body of work created over the duration of the school year.
Decision makers from all over the digital media industry were invited to listen to student presentations about school projects and review student portfolios with the hope that connections will be made and possible internships or employment will be found. MDM students are required to complete a work semester starting in September in order to qualify to graduate so networking is an important skill that is emphasized to students for these events.
As a MDM student who attended the CDM Showcase, I learned first-hand how important networking is to making connections within the industry. It’s a skill that cannot be directly taught and truly is an art form.
The Showcase is not necessarily about finding a job but, instead, about meeting decision makers within the industry. Students shouldn’t be going into the Showcase thinking they will come out with a job. It is all about making connections now so that there is at least an opportunity for a meeting concerning employment in the future.
While I won’t say I am a networking master, I do feel very comfortable talking about myself and meeting new people. Even still I learned some very valuable tips throughout the Showcase that improved my ability to network and make successful connections.
6 Networking Tips For Graduate Students
1. Your Portfolio Is Just the First Step.
While displaying your portfolio is important, it’s not the most important part of your interaction while networking. Decision makers are much more concerned with your ability to solve a problem they are facing. If hired, would you be able to complete the job requirements and fit in with my team? Those are the types of thoughts employers are concerned about, not necessarily what you have created at school. Portfolios are great icebreakers and conversation pieces but at the end of the day, potential employers want to know if you would be the right fit for their team, and that’s something that cannot necessarily be found in a portfolio.
2. Talk To Everyone.
It’s ok to talk to people who you know aren’t decision makers at your favourite company. There are plenty of alumni, family and friends who come to the CDM Showcase who are only there to look at the student work and eat free food. While this may be frustrating to students who are frantically trying to network and land a job, it’s quite acceptable and even encouraged to talk to these people as well. Practicing networking never hurt and you never know who these people might be and what connections they might have. A conversation with former alumni can easily lead to an important new connection.
3. Take Advantage Of All Speaking Opportunities.
Presenting before the Showcase was the best way for the entire audience to know who you are, what you do and how you could help them. I witnessed this first-hand when a student presenter was able to make a connection and land an interview within 15 minutes of the start of the Showcase, while I was left scratching my head in disbelief. Being able to present your work to the entire audience (which occurs for select student groups right before the Showcase) is the best way for you to be heard and be recognizable once the madness of the event begins. It allows for a great ice breaker and conversation piece for potential employers to come up to you and connect. I would seriously recommend any future student to try your best to be selected to present because it’s the easiest way for you to make connections during the Showcase.
4. Your Classmates and Faculty Are Your Biggest Allies.
Your classmates and faculty are your biggest allies during the Showcase. Finding a good spot to set up your portfolio is important because you want to be able to be individually seen and not blend into the background. It was a lot more difficult that I initially thought and involved strategy in determining where to set up your portfolio and who to set it up beside. I unfortunately did not put enough thought into this detail and ended up setting up my portfolio close to the bathroom, which I discovered to be the "networking dead zone". Fortunately, I had great friends who ushered decision makers my way for me to meet. This happened several times and was an important way to meet connections who may be interested in my skills.
5. Make An Effort To Talk To the Right People.
You might have to put in work to find the decision maker you are looking for. The worst technique for networking is standing in front of your portfolio waiting for someone to come up and talk to you. Simply showing off your portfolio is not what the Showcase is about, it’s really about connecting with people. This means that talking to the right person might actually involve some work. The most successful connection I made involved me chasing her down outside after being told she was about to leave. If I had not ran outside I would not have made that connection and shut the door for a possibility in the future.
6. Finally, HAVE FUN, because networking is fun right?