Networking is meaningful now — at least according to College sophomore Shahriar Shams-Ansari.
Shams-Ansari is one of the co-founders of Penn Connect, a new group that aims to teach students how to network. Penn Connect offers students an eight-week curriculum, designed by entrepreneur Keith Ferrazzi, whom Forbes called one of the most connected individuals in the world.
The networking program was kickstarted at Yale University last year and has since expanded to other campuses, including Penn and Harvard University.
“Connecting is one of the most important business — and life — skill sets you’ll ever learn,” Ferrazzi writes in his book. “Why? Because, flat out, people do business with people they know and like.”
Co-founder College sophomore Evan Bayless first reached out to Ferrazzi last academic year after reading his book “Never Eat Alone.” Bayless was just hoping to talk to him, and perhaps even meet him.
He didn’t realize it would lead to a new networking club.
Bayless and co-founder Shams-Ansari both believe in Ferrazzi’s philosophy and wanted to bring it here.
“A lot of people at Penn think that networking is about leeching onto someone else and getting something from them,” Shams-Ansari said. “[Networking] is about building something meaningful.”
Penn Connect teaches people how to build relationships through weekly discussions and dinners with small groups, short readings, video materials based on Ferrazzi’s book and networking opportunities at conferences.
The team took a “targeted” approach in recruitment. At the beginning of September, applications for Penn Connect were distributed to a select population at Penn, including Fox Leadership and International Affairs Association listservs.
The group received approximately 60 applicants from all four schools. Twenty-one students were selected to participate in the program, which will hold its first meeting this Thursday.
“Before Penn Connect, I really got the impression that you had to get business cards and get as many business cards as you can,” Bayless said. “Now I look at everyone as more of a peer.”
Bayless wouldn’t say he’s an expert at networking, but he’s learned a lot from Ferrazzi’s book and from working with the curriculum.
One thing that Penn Connect members will learn is the importance of follow-ups. “You should send some sort of follow-up note between three to 24 hours,” Bayless said.
Penn Connect is entirely student-run and unaffiliated with any of Penn’s schools and offices, including Penn Career Services, which currently gives networking advice through videos posted online, one-on-one advising sessions and mentoring programs that connect students with people in their field of interest.
While there are resources on campus for students to learn more about networking, Penn Connect co-founders Bayless and Shams-Ansari said Penn Connect provides a more interactive and hands-on approach.
For Bayless, networking is important not only for career purposes. “There are a lot of ways to seek happiness … but socializing is one of the things that makes humans happiest — having a lot of connections and having a lot of people around you.”
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