Students create connections in hospitality field through Networking Extravaganza

2012 Career Fair.  GVL/Archive

2012 Career Fair.  GVL/Archive

Olivia Fellows

Tuesday, Feb. 5, Grand Valley State University provided a free networking open house called Networking Extravaganza at the DeVos Hager-Lubbers Exhibition Hall in Grand Rapids, allowing students to come and connect with area businesses and employers. 

The event was geared toward the hospitality and tourism management major and was attended by 25 companies and roughly 75 to 100 students. Some of the area’s businesses in attendance were representatives from organizations like The Amway Hotel Collection, Suburban Inns, Celebration Cinemas, Frederik Meijer Gardens and Carnival Cruise Lines. 

GVSU’s Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management internship coordinator and event organizer Amanda Stansbie explained that the event was an opportunity for students to learn about networking and begin making important connections with local and regional employers that would help them find jobs following graduation.

“Often, it can seem intimidating for a student to instigate a conversation with an industry professional,” Stansbie said. “Networking events like this one aim to remove the stigma often associated with a career fair where the student feels that they have to dress the part and tend to shy away from asking the questions that they really want to know the answer to. Students can talk about their interests, aspirations and look to make connections through ‘informal’ discussions with managers already in the field.” 

The employers that attended the event had many job opportunities available and many students who attended the open house found themselves setting up interview appointments during their time there. Stansbie relayed that the hospitality and tourism management industry is one where typically everyone in the field gets along and each employer’s knowledge of networking helped greatly in making students comfortable. 

The event itself also highlighted the importance of learning networking skills for college students in other fields as well. Associate Director of GVSU’s Career Center Lisa Knapp clarified that networking skills apply to more than just jobs and that simple efforts can go a long way when practicing them with employers and acquaintances. 

“‘Proper’ networking is an overwhelming concept,” Knapp said. “Anyone can network and most of us do all the time without thinking about it. Ever lent someone a pair of shoes or piece of notebook paper? That’s networking. You left a positive impression on that person because you saw their need and you met it. While there are times you have to walk into a networking event where you don’t know anyone, most networking is done organically.” 

Assistant Professor at GVSU Allison Adams stressed that learning how to network and maintain professional relationships throughout a student’s college years and beyond can provide new opportunities along the way in a student’s career path. 

Adams explained that, especially in the hospital field, communication is key in creating lasting business relationships. Many employers in the field rely on face-to-face networking in order to keep their businesses running smoothly and learning good communication and networking skills go a long way in helping students looking to get hired, especially in big cities like Grand Rapids. 

“Many of the skills necessary to managing in hospitality can be taught, but genuine smiles, ease of conversation and professionalism in conduct are much more difficult for employers to instill in employees, so they like to hire those that display these abilities,” Adams said, “As you develop your networking contacts, you have to nourish those relationships. That means making contact from time to time, even if you don’t ‘need’ something from the person.”

There are many ways that students can get involved with learning about networking and honing these crucial skills. Small initial steps like building professional habits as it relates to timeliness, respecting others, asking good questions, making others feel comfortable and keeping your word will make it easy for people to remember you and refer you to people they know in your field of interest. 

Knapp said that attending career events is also a major boost when working toward possible career opportunities, as GVSU brings more than 1,200 professionals to campus each year for fairs and smaller events, panels and interviews.