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Two college graduates say networking is about who, not what

Published on 29 August 2008

Although parents and teachers have told their students, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” some may still wonder why networking is so important. Trust Jean Kummer and Trent Olson, two college graduates who credit much of their career success to the contacts they have made along the way.

“Every interaction you have with people who work in your field leaves an impression,” says Penn State University alumna Jean Kummer. “There’s definitely a window of opportunity to meet with potential employers when in school because they’re looking for bright, eager graduates.”

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Kummer is able to speak from personal experience of the benefits of making contacts. While working as an extension agent in western Pennsylvania, she received notification of a job opening for a public relations specialist. The news came from a friend she met at Penn State, Alexa Stoner, who was working in dairy promotion.

“I applied for the position, got the job and worked for the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association – and with Alexa – for four years,” Kummer says. Her experience at Mid-Atlantic led her to her current career as deputy press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture in Harrisburg.

Kummer and Stoner were able to interact with one another through classes and college activities, such as the Dairy Science Club. Kummer says that in order for students to find others with similar interests, they should take advantage of opportunities to join clubs and organizations.

“You don’t have to chair committees to be involved,” Kummer says. “Being a worker bee is every bit as important.”

Trent Olson, a graduate of the University of Minnesota, agrees with Kummer about the importance of participating in clubs and organizations. As a student, Olson was active in the Gopher Dairy Club, a member of Delta Theta Sigma Fraternity and participated on both the dairy judging team and the Dairy Challenge Team. These experiences helped him to make valuable contacts.

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“My friends and people I have networked with during college provided a group of peers to relay information on job openings and compensation levels,” says Olson, now a progeny test program manager for ABS Global in DeForest, Wisconsin.

“Having several people that entered the industry ahead of me provided me a wealth of knowledge of what they do from day-to-day on a firsthand basis versus hearing a vague job description during an interview.”

He recommends students look into regional and national collegiate events such as ADSA, Dairy Challenge and World Dairy Expo. Expanding a circle of contacts can provide students with new opportunities and new friendships, like it did for Olson.

“Until my senior year of college, taking a job out of state never even entered my mind,” he explains.

“So when I moved to Wisconsin, I was glad I had people I could rely on for restarting my social network in a new state.”

Olson says he speaks with a handful of his college classmates on a regular basis and enjoys catching up with the others at events such as weddings and World Dairy Expo.

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“College is the ideal time to step outside your comfort zone and learn how to interact and build relationships with all types of different people,” Olson says.

Kummer agrees and also thinks that the commitment and the ability to form contacts says a lot about a student’s personality and a successful potential career.

“If you can show you are well-rounded, take on responsibilities, develop people skills and exhibit the ability to balance all those things, future employers notice,” she says.

“Those speak volumes about your work ethic and your capability to do a good job.” PD

Nine ways to network

1. Join clubs and organizations where you’re likely to interact with students who share your interests.

2. Interact with alumni groups. Many dairy clubs and Greek organizations have alumni counterparts.

3. Take advantage of internship opportunities. Internships can help widen your circle of contacts.

4. Pull your weight in class projects and learn how to work as a team. Recent graduates say today’s industry focuses on consulting and team approaches.

5. Participate in regional and national competitions. Even introverts can become more socially comfortable and outgoing when sharing ideas of a topic about which they are knowledgeable and passionate.

6. Make friends with your friends’ friends. By making acquaintance with a few good, outgoing friends, you will quickly find yourself being introduced to more people.

7. Come up with a way to interact with friends outside of classes and club meetings. Whether it’s a weekly game of touch football or a movie night, both activities provide a way to make connections in a more relaxed environment.

8. Try something new. Joining another organization or volunteering to help with an event that you normally wouldn’t, will allow the chance to interact with new people.

9. Don’t let graduation mean the end of a friendship. With e-mail capability and websites like Facebook that allow grads to “find” each other, it’s easier than ever to keep in touch.

Tips provided by Jean Kummer and Trent Olson, two college graduates who credit their successful careers to the benefits of networking.

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