In the arena

30 Nov

The U Vic BComm students who showed up at the Business Banquet on Thursday night now have an evening of networking under their belts. And it wasn’t nearly as scary as they thought it was going to be. Vomit bags were noticeable by their absence.

At one point I spoke with a couple of nervous students who were watching from the sidelines, and I asked them to identify the most intimidating-looking businessman in the room.

They pointed to the towering Bill Anderson, a retired partner of KPMG, and long-time supporter of this evening. So I dragged them over to meet him and they quickly discovered that their fears were completely unfounded.

And so the evening went.

I asked some of the students to write about the event and here are their contributions. Full credit to Leta Young and Erin Stead for putting on a terrific show, with mid-terms swirling around them.


MIKE GLOVER > This was the first time that many students had the chance to network of their own accord, and because of it, it was quite a frightening experience. While business reps are quite human and not the hyper-intelligent killer robots that some students make them out to be, it still takes a lot of nerve to go make first (peaceful) contact. When speaking with one representative on the matter he commented to me “It’s always hard trying to break the third years from their packs and it doesn’t even change with the fourth years. I’ve been at these banquets for years, and I just get a kick out of navigating my way into their cliques to make conversation.”

For some, the feeling one gets when walking into a room crowded with business representatives and students could be reminiscent of the feelings of a roman gladiator who’d been thrown in with a pit of sleeping lions. Our social networks are our sword and shield, they protect us and make us feel secure in foreign situations where we don’t really know what to do. But, from when I surveyed the room at the reception, there were still many great students who’d thrown those swords and shields aside and jumped in head-first looking to arm-wrestle the biggest lion in the den for a business card.

RUSSELL MURRAY > I did not quite achieve my “quota” for the evening, however, I was able to initiate a couple of quality discussions. One such discussion was with Paul Cumberland of the CMA’s of BC.

Now, I don’t have the faintest desire to become an accountant (right now, I plan on becoming a lawyer). I have been known to avoid accounting reps at networking functions like I owe them money. That’s not to say that they are bad people. I was just always intimidated by the competitiveness of their recruitment, and the urban legend that they only want to talk to accounting majors. However, I saw him standing by himself and decided to take a chance and jump out of my comfort zone. After a few minutes, I found myself chatting with him like we were old school mates.

I have followed up with him, not for a job, not to see if he knows any lawyers, but to learn from his experiences. As our guest speaker, Tim Vasko quoted “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get”. I learned that networking provides opportunities to learn and grow and that sometimes these opportunities arise in the people you would never think to engage or have falsely written off.

GRAHAM ROGERS > This was the first networking event for the majority of the students, and many were more stressed over it than their exams.

The most memorable moment of the evening was one encounter three other classmates and I had with a representative from PricewaterhouseCoopers. All four of us were as shy as a fifteen-year-old on a first date. I looked over at my friend, who had butterflies in this stomach armed with tridents that were prodding him on the inside. It was awkward at first: we were sweaty and stuttering. As the conversation progressed, we realized something important; this person wants to give us advice. We started drilling her with questions, and that’s when we all started to relax and learn about her background.

Since this was my first networking event, I expected my opening encounters with the business community to be a challenge; I’m no Sean Connery. I plan to take advantage of more of these events to practice and improve my interpersonal skills. Hopefully years later I can look back on the CSS Business Banquet of 2009 as a learning experience that contributed to my success… before I hop into my BMW and drive to work.


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