By Kevin Halloran
We’ve all heard it a million times: “Your network is your net worth.” But what does this really mean?
To a typical engineering student, networking sounds like an idealistic short cut to employment. What do you mean, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know?” Why am I taking all of these hard classes if a robust understanding of the content won’t land me a sweet six-figure job? It seems like the business kids have it easy—get through FIN300 or ACCY whatever and go work for an investment bank or the Big 4, because the people you’ve met will help you out with recruiting. It doesn’t seem fair; however, little does the average UIUC student know, their network is waiting to be discovered down any avenue.
The Hoeft Technology and Management Program allowed me to break through the veil to see the working world as it really is. The key to success in college is not what you study, it’s how you approach it. The single most important thing to do is to find what you are passionate about enough to devote a significant amount of your time and go after it. This program provides unparalleled access to a huge pool of extremely motivated people who work anywhere you could aspire to, who all sat in the same desks as us only a few short years ago. What’s more, these people as well as my contemporary colleagues all chose a direction, became involved in the right communities, met people with common interests, and accomplished more as a team than they could have alone. They effectively built a network for success.
The students in the Gies College of Business are taught that this is the move from the get-go. They make a LinkedIn account on day one. Students of the engineering college tend to get bogged down in the details of math and science, and many fail to see the bigger picture of how a company actually works. If I were to follow the curriculum of the Materials Science and Engineering department exclusively, I would have been excellently prepared to enter a doctoral research program, but not necessarily work as a corporate engineer. The T&M program filled in the gaps for me quite nicely. I saw that there is more to a career than academics, and options outside of R&D are available to anyone with the proper motivation.
People often ask, “Kevin, why in the world are you going to work as a tax consultant at KPMG with a degree in materials science?” No, I didn’t expect it either. I had been planning to work on electric vehicle batteries and other energy storage solutions as the world shifts to renewable energy sources, but that didn’t work out as planned. With one internship’s worth of experience in the field, I set that career path on hold for a while and decided to explore what other opportunities may come my way. I happened to walk through the consulting aisle of the engineering career fair and thought, a lot of smart people I know seem to revere consulting as an occupation, so why not see what it’s about? A few nice conversations and a beverage at Legend’s later I had an interview with KPMG. Knowing one of my good pals, Lauren Excell, interned with them, I reached out to her and learned more about the position. I thought hey, I could learn a ton about the financial services industry from brilliant people and have some fun along the way. I could even meet a ton of clients, one of whom may offer me a job in batteries someday. And so I interviewed and got the position, with a glowing recommendation from a past intern (thanks Lauren).
While I had the resume and transcript to back up my application, I didn’t get the position because of my grades or my 3-year academic research stint; I got it due to knowing the right person at the right time. This experience really opened my eyes to the true nature of networking. Opportunity can come from anywhere or anyone you meet, so it pays to make connections and be genuinely interested in what the people around you are doing. Surrounding myself with Class XXIV of the T&M program and the accompanying alumni network was an excellent starting place, but the buck didn’t stop there. I can’t walk 10 minutes on this campus without running into someone I met from some organization or another. Most of the time these are people I know from a class or social function, some close or distant friend, but all could be considered part of a broader network.
I used to think a network was a recruiting tool to land a job. I have since come to realize that networking is so much more than that. My personal network encompasses people to study with, people inclined to see the same concert, people to go to KAMS with, people to live with, and yes, every so often people to talk with about professional ambitions. It is the cultivation of this network that I will take with me after I walk across the virtual stage in a few short days, kept in closer esteem than my resume or my transcript. In a sense the friends I’ve made at every point along my college career define my person, and I’ll allow that to be construed as my net worth.
All of this is to say, “computers network, people make friends.”
Kevin is currently in T&M Class XXIV, a senior in Materials Science and Engineering, President of the Illinois Ski and Snowboard Club, and will soon be starting his full time position as a AMCS Associate at KPMG.