Students Learn to Network Forward

Adjunct lecturer Randy Hlavac shares online tools to help Northwestern MEM students begin to build their professional network.

No matter what industry you work in, it's important to have a network of individuals you can turn to for advice, support, and potentially future job opportunities. This is true for journalists. It's true for scientists. And it's certainly true for engineers.

Students in Northwestern University's Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program got an inside look at how to cultivate that network from adjunct lecturer Randy Hlavac, who recently delivered a lecture titled, "Network Forward: Building Your Influencer & Expert Networks BEFORE You Need Them!"

The lecture was also broadcast as a webinar for prospective MEM students.

"You have current information on the newest technologies available to the marketplace," Hlavac said. "There are people who are CEOs that are looking for that knowledge. If you have the right tools, you can connect up with them now."

Those tools all relate to social media, Hlavac explained, but this isn't about just connecting with someone on LinkedIn or posting an interesting article on Twitter. Social media is more than social networks like Facebook and Instagram, said Hlavac, who teaches Digital Marketing for Engineers and Entrepreneurs and is also a lecturer in the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.

Instead, Hlavac suggested that social networks are instead at the top of a deep social media pyramid. The further down the pyramid you go, the more valuable the conversations can be, and the more impactful networking can be. For example, Hlavac suggested a news aggregator like Reddit is high on the pyramid, directly below social networking channels. Content found there may be interesting and valuable, but it is not a forum that naturally fosters in-depth conversation or allows users to demonstrate their thought leadership. Industry-specific chatrooms or virtual communities, on the other hand, are at the bottom of the pyramid. The content is rich, the membership is invested, and the networking opportunities are limitless.

It is in those platforms where individuals can demonstrate their knowledge and skills as thought leaders, and that is what Hlavac suggested students try and do. He also explained that while many people think portraying themselves as thought leaders means writing dozens of articles or filming videos, that belief is not true. That is creating content. According to Hlavac, you can be a thought leader by curating content.

Curating content means taking content shared by others and resharing it to your own network of followers. You become the middleman for valuable information, and as you continue to share that valuable info, people will naturally turn to you for your perspective. The key, Hlavac said, is knowing what tools to use as you begin to develop your network.

"Right now, everyone you need to connect with for your career is online," he said. "The challenge is you can't connect with them unless you know how."

During the academic year, the Master of Engineering Management Program leverages the expertise of alumni and faculty to create webinars on topics relevant to technology, innovation, and management. Webinars are one example of how Northwestern’s MEM program prepares its students and alumni to stay abreast of timely and emerging topics in the field of engineering management. Visit the MEM website to view information on the latest scheduled webinars as well as archives of past recordings.