I participated in a panel on careers in consulting this afternoon, along with representatives from both major and smaller players in the industry. The target audience was graduating seniors, though many underclassmen filled out the crowd. Chances to connect with students in their own environment (on campus) are worth the effort because they’re more real. A formal interview is not always the best way to get to know someone. In fact, I’ll take that one step further: An interview is never the best way to get to know someone.
Professional panels, on the other hand, are great places to meet potential candidates.
For starters, I already know they’re interested in my industry. They also have the chance to approach me, someone they just met, and ask about anything under the sun. What they ask, and how comfortable they are doing it, is one of the best tests I can devise. As a consulting firm, we need people who have no reservations about addressing strangers and drilling them for facts and opinions. Students who comfortably approach me, introduce themselves, thank me for participating, and ask me a few thoughtful questions are already a leg up on their competition. Nine times out of ten, I’ll remember them come interview time.
But there’s something inherent in a panel session that the smart student takes advantage of. I sat looking at the audience for two straight hours. Almost all my attention was focused on the audience and everyone in it. Those who made clear eye contact and remained in my field of vision are stored in my memory, and may be for months. The panel ended almost four hours ago, and I can clearly remember five different people based on where they sat and our eye contact. Each of the people who spoke with me during the after-panel networking event are stuck in my brain, too. I remember the questions they asked, which ones are graduating this May, and what their majors are.
All they had to do was show up, ask a few questions, and now they have a leg up on their competition.
And in the meantime, they hopefully gained insight into an industry they’re interested in. Brilliant!