Networking and Interviewing Skills

I recently read a piece by Weston Gardner called Perspectives From an Underemployed College Grad that I wanted to share with the high school kids who go on volunteering trips abroad with my company.

Weston is less than two years removed from graduating from college, where he had a good GPA, lots of extracurricular activities, and did his share of charity work.

Problem is, since graduating college he’s only been able to find a part-time job (working with the disabled). So he has ended up “…broke, success-starved, and embarrassed.” He feels like he “fell through the cracks” somehow.

It’s usually about this point in the story that most writers these days go on and on about how the economy sucks, or he picked the wrong major, or should have bagged college altogether (at least for a while).

But to Weston’s credit, he takes it in another direction. He instead talks positively, about some of the “takeaways” from his experience that might help others.

And this is where all my teen volunteering clients can learn — so listen up!

Weston’s biggest takeaways?

The two things Weston most undervalued while in college were networking and developing interview skills.

How do you network? Weston suggests participating in clubs related to your interests.

He’s right. And by volunteering abroad, you are joining a “club” I like to call the “international community”. To me, these are people who are deeply interested in and connected with others around the world (in my case the third-world) vis-à-vis kindness and understanding.

Granted, you might resist trying to reach out to that nerdy, pimply-faced teen from home who is part of your school group building houses in Guatemala for los pobres.

But reach out anyway. Say hello, ask questions, offer to help them with their Spanish. Just as important — stay in touch with them long after the trip. It could end up being a networking home-run for you, because nerdy kids are often the ones who end up running things as adults. (But mostly, reach out and be kind because it’s just the right thing to do. )

Even when you’re back home after your trip, you can network and remain connected to this international community.

When I am in my hometown of Philadelphia, I do things like stay in touch with colleagues and friends I’ve met in place like Ghana and India. I seek out books, articles, films and TV shows that portray life in third-world countries.

One thing I’m doing more of these days is meeting new people here at home who are part of the international community. Even simply going to a Vietnamese restaurant or a Chinese grocery here in Philadelphia can strengthen this connection.

The other week I was in Manhattan for a day. I don’t think it’s an accident that I ended up in Chinatown. I was lucky enough to catch some dragons dancing for the New Year:

Be a giver, not a taker.

I found another useful networking tip last week. This one is from entrepreneur Jeff Archibald. He actually says to stop networking and start helping:

Meet people and look for ways you can help them. Understand their business, their pain points, and their challenges—keep them in mind. Then, when you come across a helpful article, eBook, application, referral, and so forth, send it to them. Don’t expect anything back in return. Be genuine.

He couldn’t be more right. Especially with those last two sentences. You would do well to remember them on your volunteering venture overseas. It’s not about you over there. It’s about being as real as you can and helping others, unselfishly, without any conscious thoughts of how it might benefit you.