By: Joe Ip
FULL DISCLAIMER: Joe’s views do not necessarily reflect the reality of all networking events. The following are excerpts from real networking events.
Networking. Some hate it. Some love it. Some senior accounting students can hardly remember a day without it. In the world of business, networking has withstood the ravages of time and will continue to play a pivotal role in society long after a box of Twinkies expires. When it comes to hiring in the fields of finance and accounting, a student’s “performance” at networking events can mean the difference between working a dream job and being a full-time “Hipster”. Is it any wonder that such high stakes events held at ostentatious venues (much like the Roman Coliseum) can turn out to be one of the most entertaining theatres of war? As a bloodthirsty spectator, the humiliation and decimation of brave combatants can serve as a cold side dish to the complimentary sushi.
“First Movers”: How a Networking Circle forms
At the onset of each battle, gladiators roam fearlessly, searching for the right “firm reps” to impress while attempting to distract (socialize with) their fellow gladiators from completing the same search. Once the arena has been fully surveyed and assessed (industry lingo: “site check”), gladiators gradually drift towards their target firm reps armed with an interesting background story (often a travel experience to an obscure developing country). These “first mover” gladiators have approximately 30 seconds to catch the attention of their chosen firm rep before five other gladiators join in the fray. After the conventional lightning round of introductions and handshakes during which the firm rep struggles to remember every student’s name (a nametag to a student is a shield to a gladiator), the circle formation is complete, and the real battle commences.
“Late Entrants”: When Networking gets Physical
Whenever there are “first movers”, there must be “late entrants”. The “Coliseum of the Recruit” is no exception. At a sizeable event, one will often find 10% of the gladiators simply standing in a corner. These wise warriors are not imitating the Chinese Terracotta Army from Xi’an. Instead, these seemingly passive warriors wait for networking circles to form before determining which battle to join based on the number of “students per rep” (the only ratio you need to know in accounting). “Late entrants”, however, face a distinct disadvantage. Aggressive students (often experienced in basketball or hockey) will defend their established “territories” in their respective circles by physically boxing out late entrants. Depending on how well the incumbent warriors utilize their elbows to close off gaps, it may take up to three minutes before the rep notices the latter’s presence, which by default, forces the incumbents to reluctantly make room for the awkward (and patient) student.
Wolves Den: “Hogging” Conversations and Bloody Spectacles
An “alpha” wolf exists in every networking circle. In Accounting, the “alpha” species is believed to be extroverts belonging to the DAP (Diploma in Accounting Program) family. A single DAP student’s prowess in the arena is often described as being equivalent to the might of three BCom students. These aggressive warriors possess an unworldly ability to talk ceaselessly, capitalizing on every conversation lull to start new topics that other gladiators in the circle simply cannot interject. Such topics may include the DAP’s full time work experience at XYZ firm or their decision to major in biochemistry for undergrad; concluding by expressing his/her deepest regrets for choosing biochemistry when he/she was young and naive, and how he/she currently believes attaining a CPA designation will lead to a life of prosperity.
One of the salient differences between accounting and finance networking are the topics (weapons) with which the combatants choose to wield. It is not uncommon to find eager students bombarding a firm rep with technical questions (obscure acronyms on mortgage backed securities, memorized daily spot prices and rates) that they just looked up on Investopedia and Bloomberg prior to the event (Ex: Today’s Prime Rate is at 3.25% and with the Palladium spot price at $715.05, what do you think is the secular trend in discount retailers?). Such tactics are employed to impress the rep while intimidating other gladiators in the circle. Ironically, this approach is often backfired, as the conversation has a tendency to drift to more recruitment related questions… after the firm rep. ensures the pre-mature demise of the pretentious warrior by correcting and embarrassing him. The humiliated gladiator will be forced to smile sheepishly and sulk in the circle for the remainder of the battle.
When networking is treated as a competitive sport from which the winners are awarded with jobs, students will often find themselves faced with seemingly important strategic questions: How do I “out-network” my peers and “win” a job? Conversely, if students were to network with the sole purpose of making new “friends” who just “happen” to be in the industry/firm they want to work in, students may find that networking can be a lot more enjoyable and entertaining than the horror stories passed around Sauder. As a spectator, it is most amusing to munch on the free popcorn (or sushi) as you witness the tragic humiliation of your foolishly aggressive peers who genuinely believe they have “triumphed” over everyone else.