Author Randall H. Miller ’93 & M’07 offers advice to Norwich underclassmen and recent graduates on making and maintaining professional contacts— insights that apply to alumni of any age
NORWICH RECORD | Summer 2020
First, play the long game. The entire point of your Norwich experience is to graduate and go on to accomplish extraordinary things. Think of your four years on the Hill as earning your dues card. Once you graduate, you’ll be in the club with access to all the benefits that come with membership. But those benefits won’t just show up on your doorstep. You have to be the person to make it happen.
So don’t wait—get involved and start developing a network now. You can do that by attending alumni events on and off campus. Networking skills aren’t taught in high school, and it can be hit or miss whether or not you develop them in college. So here are a few tips about how to make the most of your next Norwich networking event.
1. Don’t just stand there, texting with a drink in your hand. Put your smartphone away, shake hands, and look people in the eye. I know you’re a student or just graduated. By definition that means you have no money, job, or influence. But you have something almost all of the older grads in the room lack—youth and recent, real-time experience on campus, whether in the Corps or as a civilian student. That makes you somewhat unique. Be outgoing. Share positive news from the Hill. (Skip the negativity.) When someone asks you what you want to do with your life, have a good answer.
2. Don’t discount anybody. If you’re an electrical engineering major or a soon-to-be-commissioned Army officer and end up standing next to the clam chowder talking to a gym teacher, keep in mind his Norwich roommate and lifelong friend might be a two-star general or own an engineering firm.
3. If you meet someone and have a meaningful conversation, ask for a card. If they don’t have one, ask for the best way to make contact and keep in touch. Trust me—unless you acted like a complete jackass—nobody will say no.
4. Show common sense. Just because you’re in an elevator with someone doesn’t mean they want to hear your elevator speech. Yes, you should always have one prepared in case the obvious opportunity to give it arrives. But sometimes it’s better to be the young woman who politely interrupts, introduces herself, and asks for permission to make contact at a later date. “Ms. Buffum, I know you’re busy, so I don’t want to ambush you. I have some ideas on how to pay off the national debt and bring lasting peace to the Israelis and Palestinians. Do you mind if I email you? May I have a card?” This shows respect for her time and makes you look cool. Whereas, launching into your canned elevator speech might make her pull the fire alarm.
5. For God’s sake, follow up. I’ve lost count of how many students/grads I’ve taken the time to speak with at events over the years. We chat. We laugh. We share stories. I know their name; they know mine. A year later, they send me a LinkedIn request with no note. Seriously? A digital connection is not a relationship. The former is accomplished with a lazy click of the mouse. The latter requires time, effort, and nurturing. Put in the time and you’ll reap the rewards.
6. After you meet someone, wait a few days before sending them a very brief note. “It was a pleasure meeting you at the Norwich event, and I enjoyed our conversation about vegan polar bears.” Keep it simple.
7. Keep in touch by sending the occasional note. Again, keep it brief. “I came across this article on vegan polar bears and thought of you.”
8. Consider offering something. “I’m on campus so let me know if you ever need anything from the Hill. Attached is a picture of my platoon receiving the Most Awesomest Platoon in Norwich History Award.” Now that you have made some effort and cultivated the relationship, if you ever need a favor (i.e., advice, an introduction, etc.), go ahead and ask for it.
9. Be worthy. The diploma gets you a seat at the table, but there are no guarantees. You need to earn it. Be the kind of person I could recommend and not lie awake at night wondering if you’re going to do something stupid and embarrass me. I’m fully capable of doing that on my own.
Randall H. Miller ’93 & M’07 is a former Norwich cadet and Army officer with the 82nd Airborne and 2nd Infantry Divisions, who lives in Andover, Mass. The author of seven books, including two on Norwich history, his most recent novel is Turning Point, the fourth in his Amazon best-selling Mark Landry series of international thrillers. This column was based on his earlier blog post, “Tips for Parents of a Norwich Cadet,” which can be found on his website randallhmiller.com.