How to Get Off-Campus and Expand Your Professional Network

How one student has expanded his professional network in Chicago and information on a competition that could allow you to do the same! 

10c56c7Between classes, work, the daily commute, personal engagements, and more, it can be difficult to find time to interact with the professional community in Chicago. However, interaction with the Chicago community is a relatively easy method of broadening one’s contacts and knowledge of businesses. Luckily, as MEM students at Northwestern, the MEM program provides many opportunities and suggestions for events to attend. I was able to attend the incredible ThinkChicago event during Chicago Ideas Week specifically because I’m a Northwestern student. The opportunity allowed me to make important connections with Google and Microsoft as well as meet fellow students interested in entrepreneurship and there’s no reason that other MEM students can’t do the same.

Below I’ll take you through the steps that allowed me to have a great experience.

1. Taking advantage of opportunities.

While Chicago Ideas Week offered a host of opportunities for MEM students, classmate Patricio Cofre and I had the unique opportunity to attend ThinkChicago (read about his experiences during the event here) because we heard about the event though the MEM department and applied. The ThinkChicago event allowed us to see the inner workings of some of the most important companies in Chicago and there’s no reason other students couldn’t have taken advantage of the same opportunity!

2. Attending the event. 

For the students, the event was designed to give us a chance to visit firms of our choice ranging from Microsoft and Google to Nokia, Grubhub and Morningstar. The concept was to introduce students to the entrepreneurial opportunities which exist in the Chicago Area.

As an engineering manager: For engineering management students, it was quite an educational and inspiring event. One important factor discussed was the application of the STEM fields. Organizations discussed their Statistics and research based activities during the visits. They stressed the possible opportunities within these organizations, introduced recruiters who could be approached, and offered a sneak preview of upcoming products. The general working environment was explored, giving a sense of what it feels to be an employee for each business.

As a student: International students who may have wanted to understand the inner workings of organizations which wield global clout such as Google gained important insights, especially because students were given insight into the daily operations of such organizations. The two days I was with TCIW I visited Groupon, MorningStar, Microsoft, Google and Grub Hub (though there were other options as well). Every academic fields was able to draw something meaningful from the visits. The theme communicated in all the activities focused on Chicago transforming into an entrepreneurially friendly economic zone. The session with Mayor Rahm Emanuel only served to cement the statements being given out during the TCIW. (Learn more about start-ups in Chicago in a previous MEM post here.)

3. Reflecting back.

The TCIW ended with a networking session geared towards entrepreneurs, startups and certain businesses. In comparison with other long-standing events such as the Chicago Innovation Awards, this event had a more interactive approach. The entrepreneurs present at the event were from a wide variety of industries, from digital art content to Software-as-a-service-platforms. The opportunity to network with these people gave an understanding of how robust the start-up market in Chicago is getting to be. What was also important to realize in this session was that with the greater number of startups, there would be a greater number of job requirements which would emerge; not all of these might last for an extended duration given the record of startup failure.

My other take away from ThinkChicago was the inspiration from aspects of entrepreneurship of the founders of these companies and at the same time an appreciation the environment which allowed such organizations to come into being and succeed. This includes the necessary infrastructure in terms of availability of capital, investors, and available human resources.

4. Attending more events in the future.

I consider my experience to be rewarding as the event allowed me to connect with a number of students from different universities as well as from Northwestern. These connections today form the cornerstone of the interconnected knowledge economy and are essential for one’s future. The event also allowed me to connect with recruiters from Google and Microsoft, and given my background of engineering management, I was able to inquire about the positions I was interested in.

Given this advantage of learning about Chicago and networking with students and businesses, I now look forward to attending other events in the Chicago area. One such event was the Chicago Innovation Awards. Although not as freely interactive as TCIW, it had a much larger clientele and reputation in the market. This reputation brought about a number of higher ranking company personnel in the event whom you could network with.

All these points cement the fact that one cannot live in an isolated environment within the university grounds. This interaction with the community is a relatively easy method of broadening ones contacts and knowledge of businesses and students should remember how many networking opportunities simply being an MEM student creates, especially in the MEMPC. Think you have what it takes? Apply for the SAS and INFORMS Analytics Section Student Analytical Scholar Competition. Find out more about the competition on our Facebook page.

If you know of upcoming events or have had similar experiences in Chicago, share your ideas and thoughts today!

Zeeshan Shah is a current MEM student and works for Colgate Palmolive Pakistan as an SAP Solution Architect. He has already earned an MBA from the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology and an IEEE member. 

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