March/April 2009

It’s who you know

Teaching the fine art of networking

By R. Pillo


Students mix and mingle with industry representatives.

Career experts estimate that 65 to 75 per cent of jobs are never advertised. Instead, successful applicants are found via word-of-mouth. In an “it’s who you know” world, being a skilled networker can make all the difference between landing a dream job and career stagnation. However, most of us are not born hob-nobbers and mastering the fine art of networking can seem quite daunting, especially for graduating students as they step into the opening act of their careers.

With the increasing popularity of student-industry events, upcoming and recent graduates have more opportunities than ever to hone their networking skills. Although practice does make perfect, preparation remains key. That is the message that Rick Hutson and Larry Smith, executive members of the CIM Toronto branch, want to spread. Through their networking seminars, their aim is to arm students with the tips and tools that will help them mingle successfully as they cross the threshold to the industry mixer that awaits them in the next room.

Preparation is key

In the classroom, students learn all of the technical material they will need to embark on their chosen career paths. However, as Smith observed: “networking, a very real part of the industry, has somehow fallen between the cracks. We realized that this is something that can actually be taught.”

However, don’t show up at Hutson and Smith’s seminars expecting a typical lecture. This dynamic duo packs a powerful punch with their insightful and engaging presentation, which not only delivers essential networking techniques, but also tips on resume writing, interview advice, and other career-building how-tos.

Once the question and answer period is over, students have a few moments before putting this new knowledge into practice. “The information they receive is immediately put to the test as students proceed to a reception in an adjacent room, where industry representatives await, giving them an opportunity to use the tools they have just been provided with,” explained Smith.

Mix and mingle

Hutson’s and Smith’s involvement doesn’t stop there. With the help of their branch colleagues, they continue to dish out their social savvy. “When we see students huddled together during the mixers, we charge in and connect them with the right people,” said Hutson. He went on to explain that at CIM luncheons,  when allowed to seat themselves, students will often sit together. To help them break outside their comfort zone, the branch assigns alternating “student” and “industry” seating cards at the tables. With an industry representative seated on either side, students have twice the networking opportunities. “They now have access to a person that would normally be protected by layers of assistants,” observed Smith.

Thanks to the generosity of local sponsors, the CIM branch empowers students with vital knowledge and contacts that are free of charge. These donations also grant students living outside the greater Toronto area financial support for transportation.

The students are not the only ones who benefit. The branch gets an inside look at the next generation of the mining industry. “We are eager to have all these bright young people join our workforce,” said Hutson.

“They represent great hope for this industry.” These events also encourage students to get more involved in CIM events. By setting roots early on, their connection to the branch and CIM will be firmly grounded for many years to come.

Hutson, a consultant at C.J. Stafford and Associates, has spent most of his career working in the petroleum industry on international grounds, from Houston to as far as the jungles in Burma. Smith, on the other hand, stayed local, working in the ever changing world of mining economics: from mergers and acquisitions to project evaluations. They both attribute much of their success to networking. “You can be the best engineer or geologist on the planet, but if no one knows you exist, what good is it?” said Hutson.

Even though their backgrounds are different, their goal is the same. “Hopefully students come away with an understanding that networking works, no matter who you are, what you do, or where you go,” said Hutson.

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