As we’re gearing up for Campus Philly’s newest event, SPARK:Philly, we joined program manager, Debora Charmelus, to get some insight on the event. SPARK is a networking event where students can get a grasp on how to start their careers in Philadelphia from professionals who have thrived here.
ZD: Can you introduce yourself to us?
DC: My name is Debora Charmelus! I’m the program manager at Campus Philly. I help to lead the professional development initiatives.
ZD: Where did you get the inspiration for SPARK:Philly?
DC: When we were deciding our fall career events, we were really looking at the feedback that we got from students and a lot of students said that they wanted to hear more stories and talk to people who had been in their position. We decided that SPARK would be an opportunity for us to get together with some leaders in Philadelphia and get them to talk about where they started and give authentic advice about where they started in Philadelphia.
ZD: Which companies will be in attendance?
DC: We’re going to have dozens of employers in attendance, some notable ones include our sponsors GSK, Vanguard and Bentley Systems.
ZD: What important details should we know for certain companies? (as in, what kind of things should we research?)
DC: You should set aside an hour before you go to a networking event to do research. You should definitely look through their website, find their mission statement, but I definitely think it’s also helpful to look at their social media. You want to be a culture fit, as well as someone who can bring new skills in.
ZD: You say we should dress to impress while staying true to ourselves, is there anything you recommend we shouldn’t wear?
DC: You want to dress as professional as possible, maybe stay away from t-shirts. I love my chucks and sneakers but you know, choose some sensible dress shoes. You will be standing up, so maybe something comfortable but professional. You want to show off your personality.
ZD: Do you have any networking tips for someone who’s never done it before?
DC: My number one tip is to be yourself. We always think of networking as a chance to sell yourself, and that’s true, but when you’re authentic that’s when you make a true connection with a person. Think of networking as meeting up with a classmate who you’ve never met before. What do you guys talk about? Do you guys talk about your job? Yeah, maybe a little bit but you also talk about your skills, what you like, your hobbies, what’s fun for you to do.
ZD: What kinds of questions would you ask prospective employers?
DC: A lot of the time student’s get wrapped up in the logistics of things like what should I have on my resume or what should my cover letter be like. Those are important, but you want to know what it’s actually like to work there. They’re interviewing you, but you’re also interviewing them! So talk about the day to day, what values are important to them, you should ask them.
ZD: What kind of things should you say when following up with an employer?
DC: You definitely want to thank them for their time, show that you appreciate the time that you spoke to them. Definitely what’s helpful is bringing up something you talked about in the conversation, so if you talked about the employer’s red shoes, definitely bring that up. If you talked about dogs, bring that up as well and of course, asking them a question doesn’t hurt.
ZD: Do you think thank you notes via email are less memorable?
DC: Sending a note is memorable whether it’s via email or a handwritten note! But sending a handwritten note is definitely more impactful, think about the last time you’ve gotten a handwritten note.
ZD: Why do you think it’s important for students to go to these kinds of networking events?
DC: I look at networking events as a chance to connect with other people. But also a way to connect in word and connect to yourself. I think that after a networking event you should do the thank you notes and the follow-ups but also reflect and think back, ‘why didn’t I speak to this organization or why did this particular organization in general draw to me?”
ZD: What steps do you think students need to take in order to improve their professionalism?
DC: Every student is different so their are no particular steps. I think always asking someone who is sort of an authority figure how to do better, they’ll be honest with you, they’ll be 100%.
ZD: What are you most excited for with this event?
DC: Just meeting new students and connecting them! It’s just always a lot of fun and I love connecting people, that’s why I’m in the industry that I’m in, to see students connect with employers and seeing that Spark come to be is what I’m most excited for.
ZD: What’s your biggest piece of advice for students attending this event?
DC: Do your research and be yourself! Don’t feel like you have to portray this person who isn’t real. At these networking events they are looking for someone who they can have a conversation with at the water cooler so definitely be yourself 100% and the perfect job will find you.
Don’t forget to do your research and come out Thursday September 29th and 5:30 for SPARK:Philly!