This was one of the questions asked by keynote speaker Anne Harbison of Gallup University at the MBA Career Services Council annual conference in Keystone, Colorado last week. As Keystone is very, very far away from my home in Westchester County, NY (and very, very far away from the Denver airport, for that matter), I had several opportunities to test this question.
The somewhat embarrassing answer is no, I am assuredly not the sort of person who talks to people on airplanes, or in airports, or on shuttle buses, or really any form of public transportation. I am a bit sheepish about this—don’t I tell all my clients to network with everyone? That you never know where the next big opportunity will come from? I blame my upbringing. Up until recently I had spent much of my life in Boston, where addressing the locals on any topic other than the Red Sox, or perhaps directions to Fenway Park, will be greeted with complete silence and a look that threatens a visit from local Homeland Security officers.
But think of the things I will never know by not reaching out to those around me. For instance, I will never learn why the gentleman seated next to me on Flight 5066 to O-Hare decided to store in his rather tight fitting trousers a pair of 1970s era binoculars. Or, more intriguingly, how did he access the wormhole the allowed him to defy the laws of physics and remove them from his front pocket at 10,000 feet? Granted, this took several uncomfortable (for both of us) minutes to accomplish. But now I will never know his motives nor his methods, because I did not ask.
Luckily, I am the sort of person who engages people in conversation over meals, and it was over breakfast and, yes, beef brisket (my apologies to the bovine guests in attendance at the stables) that I met new people and reconnected with old acquaintances. For instance, I got to catch up with Dan Beaudry, author of Power Ties: The International Student’s Guide to Finding a Job in the United States. But did we talk about how cultural norms affect our ability and willingness to network? No, we talked about our children, and the fun things we used to do before we had children (Dave Mustaine misses us, Dan), and how on earth have we managed to get any work done since having children?
But that’s OK. I learned a lot at the conference, too. But I’ll save that for another post.
Sharon Belden Castonguay, EdD
Director, Graduate Career Management Center
Baruch College, Zicklin School of Business
New York, NY