When a colleague from SAIT (my college alumni) had asked if I was interested in participating in a job shadowing program, I jumped at the chance. The reason for wanting to do this was that this was opportunity I was not afforded when I finished school and wished I had. The students, who are wrapping up their final semester, are getting ready to enter the workforce with all the optimism and uncertainty that they can manage. Given the current economy I felt that I had even more in common with these students as I graduated in a bleak economic period with little on the job horizon as well. Reflecting on that time frame I wondered how different my graduating experience could have been if I was able to bounce questions off someone who had some level of experience in the industry.
The objective for the students, in their three hour window with me, was to observe and to ask questions revolving around how a typical day went and share some advice as it applied. While I could have had the students sitting with the team and watching them work, I decided that the time was best spent in them asking questions and then tailoring the visit based on the discussion.
The question that I was asked the most, in fact by all of them, was “if there is one skill that you would say was the top skill, what would it be?”
Interesting, but not surprising, was that the answer to this was likely something that was not going to appear on anyone’s resume – it was networking.
I explained that especially in a tough job market the thing that differentiates people from a pile of resumes was that there is some level of connection to the person filling a position.
With each of the students I identified that there are many lines of networking to consider. There are several places to find connections. They range from professional associations, conferences, campus events, various social media platforms and mentoring opportunities such as this one. When I had finished school this was an area that was lacking to me only because I did not have direction on what to look for. As a result I always felt as though I was pushing a boulder uphill to get some traction on where to start.
I mentioned that getting the ‘foot in the door’ is a marathon rather than a race, and to not get discouraged when they get the sense that people only see them as ‘fresh out of school’. While that will happen, there are many more people who would see their fresh perspective and enthusiasm as a benefit rather than focusing on their lack of professional experience. In many cases, I explained, teams are looking for people who can ask the right questions rather than necessarily giving the right answers.
This experience was as much a benefit to me as it was to them. It provides me a networking opportunity also. After all there is a chance that I could be working with, or for, one of these people someday.
Take the time to connect and mentor with someone today.