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viewpoint

I spy with my little eye

| Tuesday, March 6, 2018

It is 4 p.m.

Somewhere, the radio is playing “Mr. Brightside.”

I am sitting at the new cafe shop in Duncan Student Center, drinking a 12 oz. vanilla latte. I just got out of class.

The Notre Dame student center is just like that at any other university, swamped with college kids in hoodies and khakis, casually gathering around a cafe and chatting about college and life. But not today. Today is a little bit special, because first you’ll notice the people in suits here.

Feeling a blow of wind, I see the entrance swing open. A group of suits solemnly walks in. Their hair is greasy from styling gels, their black-leathered shoes are polished, but they are twisting their sweating hands with unconvincing smiles on their faces that are segmented into two — nervous and confident, nervous and unconfident.

The mid-February rain drips down from the South Bend sky. Beneath the tilted eaves of Duncan, a suited man with his briefcase yells angrily into his phone while walking into Duncan and leaving muddy footprints after him. Another young man who shelters beneath an umbrella walks in and looks around with an apprehensive look on his face. A third one walks in, stops, wipes the sweat off his hands on the suit and shakes hands with the previous suit. At one moment, all of them stop and look outside, contemplating the rain. They wait for the rain to stop. All of the people in suits wait for the rain to stop.

They are all heading toward one direction — the career fair upstairs.

I’m skipping this one. Usually I don’t, but today I am skipping it. To be honest, though I’m a somewhat proud Mendoza student, I’ve never been a strong advocate for these kinds of career events — never been a huge fan.

I’m sure you understand the pain of attending info sessions, or at least you’ve heard of it. As soon as the door of that small room opens, the group of suits who are already lining up eagerly floods in. Of course, you don’t want to be left behind and you follow them into the room.

The air is stiff, and the desserts are not really good. Networking circles are worse, because you often feel trapped in it while hearing the boring answers to those meaningless questions others ask. You come forward with the sincerest smile you can fake and shake hands, but your mind is already drifting away. You get almost nothing valuable from this because the conversations are not spontaneous at all. Endless talking dries up your throat, but it’s the same for the professionals as well.

Imagine this: after pulling two all-nighters, he gets on an early morning plane and comes straight to campus. While talking to those sophomores who literally know nothing, he is thinking about the feedback he got for his pitchbook, the amount of work he has to put in later and how his boss was yelling at him on the phone earlier today. At that point, all the candidates look about the same to him — in suits, holding padfolios, looking nervous. It’s impossible for him to remember anyone.

Trust me, some of them dislike these events as much as you do.

In fact, networking is not a new concept to me. I understand the importance of expanding one’s social network, especially building a professional network. However, what I described above should not be the correct way to network — I don’t even think that’s networking. Networking should be building sincere relationships that could benefit you in the future. If we take a totally utilitarian standpoint, the way students network during those career events produces little utility, not to mention the energy that gets exhausted in the process.

What partially causes this problem are Notre Dame students themselves. Many of us dreaded info sessions and career events. The fear of not being able to land a job outweighed everything else. Before entering the room, you are already hopelessly trying to find that last straw on the back of a camel. Networking should never be the sole purpose of finding a job and should never be judged by a utilitarian framework. Oftentimes, we forget the importance of having meaningful conversations with the people in the room. Somehow, we know how to chug beers with friends; we don’t know how to build a professional yet meaningful and lasting relationship with people anymore. I think relationships need to be nurtured and sustained through deliberate and careful efforts.

When the students want the job too much, they then rationally chose to do irrational things. I’ve seen too many times how my peers, including myself, try to impress those professionals and then inevitably fail. I think we all know the rules, that you should neither ask questions that can be easily googled, nor do you want to act like you know everything. Somehow, we still can’t help ourselves. Humility is something we lack nowadays.

Another part of the problem stems from the setup of those events. I don’t have so many pleasant memories with last fall’s career fair in the stadium. On one hand, students are encouraged to speak with as many firms as possible. On the other hand, given the ridiculously long lines at each booth, it is rather impossible to have meaningful conversations with a lot of people. It is equally as hard for the firms to scout talents from those career fairs as well. Even if they have the resumes collected, they couldn’t relate that to the faces.

With a sigh, I see that rain continues to drip down from the sky, and I’m finishing up my latte. I wave to the suit coming into Duncan while shaking the rainwater off him. It’s getting dark outside, so I’m heading home.

Erin Shang seeks to find the black and white from this world of messed up palette, the polygons from monotonous lines and passion from the shattered dreams in this brave new world we’re all living in. She is a sophomore studying Finance and ACMS at Notre Dame, living in Cavanaugh Hall. Erin welcomes comments of any kind, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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