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Making Your Mark at Competitions, Networking, and Much More…

Mishaal Mufti, BBA 2020

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It doesn’t come as a surprise that the moment one sets their foot within the Schulich School of Business, the concept of networking is one that is no longer optional but rather, vital. Networking is not only a method of gaining crucial insight from those with more experience, but also a way to form lasting relationships that can go a long way. For an individual who is attending their first networking event, it can be intimidating, especially if there is a preconceived notion of there being a cookie-cutter method. The truth of the matter is that networking is not as technical as many mistake it to be. As with anything else, it all comes down to approach and mindset. Often, the “fluff” surrounding a networking event such as the environment, the huge circles of people, and the underlying nature, has the potential to throw anyone off. Such factors distract individuals from what networking truly is: having a genuine conversation with someone.

By mitigating unnecessary variables, only then will one begin to truly realize that the beauty of networking lies in the fact that there is no cookie-cutter method. How can you optimize your networking experience and highlight your unique personality? Let me break it down into two main concepts:

  1. Change your mindset.

Competing in case competitions is a commonly reoccurring theme for many individuals within the Schulich community. Often, the notion of a competition may be associated with a positive or negative connotation depending on two main outcomes: winning or losing. However, this is a primary example where one’s approach towards competitions must be changed altogether since their demeanor has the potential to be influenced by extrinsic factors. Naturally, this will become apparent when engaging in conversations with others including industry professionals. Moreover, it will take a toll on your own personal drive and motivation towards displaying an exceptionally unique personality.

I had a chance to put this idea to the test when I attended the SPARK Case Competition held by the Undergraduate Business Society that was sponsored by Ernst & Young (EY) on Friday, January 27th, 2017. This case competition was exceptionally designed to allow first and second year students to take on a more active role within the case competition scene at Schulich by developing a solution to a case within a three-hour pressure tank. During the process, I had the privilege of taking on a proctor role and witness the team, Risky Business, go through an intensive yet structured process of reaching to a solution for the case at hand. Their careful deliberation resulted in a third-place finish for the first-year division. Now many of you may be curious about what led to their remarkable outcome. The key was their overall mindset. Their goal did not center around winning specifically, but rather, genuinely coming up with a viable solution to the case. And while these two results may appear to be the same thing, the truth is that they are fundamentally very different. None of the team members uttered anything related to winning or ignored their teammate’s opinions. This often arises in situations where an individual is solely consumed with the desire to win, which may lead to disrespectful treatment towards teammates. Their passion towards reaching a solution was notably evident as they fully immersed themselves into the role outlined in the case, and ensured minimal gaps within their solution. Their overall attitude was not clouded by fear of what other potential teams could do because of the faith that they had in themselves and one another. This was effectively depicted through their presentation in front of the EY judges, and subsequently, their conversations with EY representatives afterwards.

So what happens when your morale is not influenced by the notion of winning and you do in fact lose?

Prior to such competitions, the importance of making personal goals is an idea that is often overlooked. I gained some insight on this further when speaking to a few second-year participants who could draw on from their past experiences with case competitions. Understanding your own strengths and weaknesses will not only allow you to establish a well-rounded team in the future, but also, enable you to develop the skills that are lacking. Meeting realistic goals unique to oneself, has the capacity to influence an individual’s morale and places them in an exceptional position to engage in thoughtful conversation with those around them. At this stage, one truly is in control of their mindset because of an intrinsic level of motivation.

  1. Simplify the situation.

This can be considered as an extension to the previous point of changing one’s mindset. Through my experience with the CORE 2017: CSR in Focus conference held on February 2nd and 3rd, I decided to experiment with this on my own and provide my personal insight. Attending my first conference was certainly nerve-racking initially. I wasn’t sure what it meant to “make an impression”. After speaking to upper years over time who have been guiding me along the way, I realized that the best form of comprehending their advice was to experience it.

One thing I have noticed is the feeling of being easily intimidated when witnessing the massive circles of individuals surrounding a recruiter. However, this is a perfect example of losing a battle without putting up a fight. Being deterred away from approaching a professional or recruiter simply because other seemingly “more qualified” individuals are speaking to them, is a barrier that one creates for themselves. Like any other difficult situation, it all comes down to your mindset. Networking is no exception to this. Simplify the situation enough so that you eliminate the additional factors and focus on the primary goal of simply having a conversation. Many of these professionals have been in the same positions as us, and we tend to forget that they had to go through a similar process. Moreover, these events are almost set up to allow us to thrive because many of these professionals are close to us in age and are exceptionally relatable. This fact alone helped me to relax immensely. Therefore, you will find that to simply engage in a meaningful conversation, all you really need to do is be a good listener. As the discussion progresses, you will realize that what once was a threatening circle of ambitious individuals, will soon become a group of new comrades that may serve as active role models in the future.

Attending CORE 2017 gave me a chance to build new bonds and relationships, while learning to embrace the unfamiliar nature of my surroundings. Listening to inspirational speakers like the TJX Canada President, Doug Mizzi, and taking part in meaningful workshops made me realize that there was an area of my undergraduate career that I wanted to explore further and continue to gain inspiration from. If you’re anything like me, which is you tend to lose motivation at times, let these experiences serve as reminders of what you can achieve and push you to make your mark.

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