Networking 101 for Student Affairs Grad Students

by Jessica Pike, Graduate Assistant – Rondileau Campus Center

Two weeks ago I attended and presented at the American College Personnel Association’s (ACPA) annual national conference in Baltimore, Maryland. Since it was my first large-scale professional conference, I was more than a little anxious about going. The week before the conference all I kept thinking was, “I am just a grad student, what kind of impression am I going to give to these seasoned professionals?” Sure, I knew that the conference would be an opportunity to connect with other student affairs graduate students and learn from experienced Student Affairs Professionals; but, as I boarded the plane my mind was racing with all of the negative things that could happen to me while I was at the conference…what if my baggage gets lost? What if I faint when I get up to present? What if I forget what I am saying when I introduce myself to others?

With more than 3,500 conference attendees, I knew that I could meet potential employers and other individuals that could be influential in my future career. Therefore, networking was critical. Although I had networked and made connections in the past, this experience was a large-scale networking opportunity that was new to me.

Prior to the conference, I had always considered “networking” to be an intimidating word. However, networking is really just meeting new people, and putting your best foot forward to make a good impression. Isn’t this what we all like to do when meeting new people? At the conference, when I began to think of networking in that way, it was easier for me to break out of my comfort zone and introduce myself to others. This new way of thinking allowed me to meet hundreds of other student affairs graduate students and professionals.

Looking back at my experience at ACPA 2011, I discovered some other important tips to help alleviate the anxiety of networking:

#1: Do your homework: Or as some people like to say, prepare. Before attending a networking event, make sure you organize your résumé. When organizing your résumé, bring it to someone who can offer feedback and constructive criticism. Prior to attending ACPA 2011, I brought my résumé to Bridgewater State University’s Career Service Center, and they were more than willing to offer me suggestions on how to improve the layout and wording so I would stand out against other graduate students.

#2: Get Business Cards: Along with a résumé, it is essential that you have business cards created. Business cards are an easy way to get your name out there and can be easily handed out after meeting someone. Since business cards will include your contact information, if someone is interested in contacting you after the initial meeting, they will be able to use your business card as a reference. I created mine myself using Publisher software; however, there are numerous websites such as, vista print where you can design and order business cards for a reasonable price.

#3: Remember airport and elevator etiquette: This sounds like common sense, but many young professionals often forget that the person sitting across the aisle at the airport might be the same person you are interviewing with later. Therefore, keep your voice level at a normal tone and keep your conversations professional. That means you should not be gossiping about the employees at your office or talking about the crazy party you attended last weekend. Remember, how you represent yourself in public indicates what kind of person you are in general. 

#4: Smile: People want to talk to happy friendly people. If you have a smile on your face, you will be more approachable Even if you are nervous, putting a smile on your face might make you appear more confident and hopefully others will remember your warm and friendly personality.

#5: Go out of your comfort zone by asking questions: At the 2011 ACPA national conference people were introducing themselves left and right, it did not matter how old you were or how many years you had been in the profession. At first this was difficult for me to process; yet, after the first day at ACPA I realized that this was one opportunity where everyone around me had a similar interest in the study of student affairs. So, I stepped out of my comfort zone and began introducing myself to others and asking questions. People like sharing their knowledge, especially if it is something they are passionate about. So, introducing yourself and acknowledging that you want to learn from them demonstrates that you are a confident individual.

With these tips in mind I know that next year’s ACPA 2012 conference in Louisville, Kentucky will be another unforgettable experience. I already know that next year I will be more confident in my networking ability; and, I am excited to meet and connect with other awesome Student Affairs professionals.

How about you, what other networking tips do you have?


About cindykane

Director of @BSUInvolved and interested in leadership and professional development strategies. Mom, scholar-practitioner, looking to make an impact!
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4 Responses to Networking 101 for Student Affairs Grad Students

  1. Brian LeDuc says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience and advice, Jessica! I can relate to several of the experiences that you mentioned here in preparing for and attending a national conference. It can be intimidating! Looking forward to reading more of your contributions!


  2. Great advice, Jessica! I really appreciate you mentioning airport and elevator etiquette. It’s important to maintain a professional demeanor as well as stay true to yourself as an individual — a tough balancing act for some!

  3. Ryan Greelish says:

    Great Article! I think the key is your number five, stepping out of your comfort zone. There are so many more opportunities out there for us- we just need the courage to take that extra step.

  4. Pingback: Student Affairs conference tips from a graduate student | UWG GSAP Network

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