Although I'd been to several afterwork parties before, I didn't really know the importance of networking until I started a business in New York. I remember the first event I attended at an Irish bar in Midtown on a cold winter night. I was invited by a friend who strictly told me to bring lots of business cards. While the small talk and exchanging business cards with complete strangers felt awkward in the beginning, I made great contacts who gave me an important insight into the city's business culture. I'm still in touch with some of them. That night, I also met two potential clients which made me quickly realize that networking requires important skills.
There's abundant information online about the ways of mastering network skills. While it's all very valuable, practicing and getting feedback can make learning faster, easier and more fun. New York University must be very well aware of the significance of real world experience that the school's career center recently organized a highly structured networking night, bringing students and industry professionals together.
I was invited as a career coach, an alumna and an employer to facilitate group discussions and provide constructive feedback to students regarding their professional pitch. I had an amazing experience with a group of 12 international students who are from China, India, Pakistan and Iran. All of them had prepared for the night and presented themselves professionally. I asked questions and made suggestions to help them reveal their unique selling points by focusing on their strengths, accomplishments, interests and career goals as well as their target audience's needs. Simply, I asked them to think seriously about this: "What makes me different from other people?".
Each of us is a unique combination of our past and present experiences, and future expectations. And I believe, what makes us unique is a hint at what we can excel at and what value we bring to employers and clients. So, as an integral part of your networking skills, do you want to refine your pitch?