I did something unusual as a 3rd year undergraduate computer science student at UCLA. I went to a crowded career fair on campus, and I didn’t give anyone my resume or apply for a internship. I walked around politely introducing myself and asking for money.
My cause was a good one. I needed a few hundred dollars (pocket change to a corporation) to buy dinner for students at a hack-a-thon. The event focused on building software for people with disabilities. An example project was a smartphone app for identifying currency denominations, for people with impaired vision.
My request was met with a wide range of reactions. One person quickly, but not rudely, told me she only has budget for collecting resumes. If I could promise a stack of resumes, she could give me money. I walked away and I later I figured out she was a “recruiter”.
Another person I met represented a semiconductor company. No students were lined up to talk to her. When I approached and gave my pitch I was surprised by her rude answer, delivered in a nasty, sarcastic tone. “Why would I sponsor your event for computer science students? I’m only interested in Electrical Engineering students.” I wonder why no students wanted to talk to her. I will remember this forever and I will never consider working for her company.
A few companies took me seriously, and I formed a relationship with one. That company, Symantec, sent me ~$200 which went towards Inn-N-Out burgers for 2 dozen hungry engineering students. It helped that I knew Jeff, a guy on the inside, and one of the hack-a-thon mentors, who was able to explain the event and convince the manager to support my cause. My relationship with Symantec turned into an internship, then a full-time software QA engineering position, then a supervisor position, and now a manager position. 7 years of contributions, multiple patent filings (2 approved by USPTO!) That’s a huge return on that $200 investment.
What I learned from all of this is:
* First impressions really matter.
* The way you carry yourself in one context reflects how you will carry yourself in other contexts.
* People can smell it when you don’t care about connecting with them, and they will act accordingly.
* Supporting someone’s cause can forge a very strong relationship.
* Who you know can really make a difference for opening doors.
* Don’t be afraid of rejection! Just move on and ask the next.
* Relationships matter, a LOT.
* Even the most trivial business interaction is an opportunity for relationship building.
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