Blog: Chris Ando, Jennifer Guracech, & Christian Bielski

In a sign that the Great Lakes State is riding the wave of its young talent, a group of interns came to exchange ideas with state powerbrokers at the recent Mackinac Policy Conference. Jennifer Guracech, Chris Ando, and Christian Bielski offer up their takeaways from this gathering of Michigan's intelligentsia.

Jennifer Guracech: Networking Live

I was very excited when I was asked to be one of the Intern in Michigan representatives at the Mackinac Policy Conference.  Honestly though, who in my position wouldn't be? I had just graduated and did not yet have a job lined up.  I had heard of the conference before but really did not know what all it entailed.  I did know enough to understand that it would be a great opportunity to "get my name out there," meet some amazing people, and to truly start networking.  At school, I had had a pretty good network of friends and student leaders but it was about time I really built my professional network and honed my networking skills.  Plus, it was a few days on Mackinac Island.

As the event grew closer, I began to obsess more on the one aspect I needed and feared most – networking.  A skill and an art form.  Having never been in the world of politics or spent time in corporate America, I was a bit panicked to be spending three days at a conference designed specifically for that purpose.  I had been taught how to network and I had made my few attempts during a previous internship, however never on this scale.  I would be with people who did this for a living.

What do I talk about?  Will they really want to know anything about me? Do I just go up to ANYONE?

After checking into the hotel, making the trek to the Grand Hotel, and giving myself a little "You can network" pep talk I was ready to go.  During the conference I was assigned to the check-in table –  perfect.  I was able to see all of the conference-goers as they were checking in and was able to put names with faces, see the different types of people there, and best of all have a short interaction with each of them as I handed them their conference bag (a hot commodity as they contained some magical Mackinac Island fudge and the ever-important umbrella).

While working registration, I was able to see the lighter side of the conference.  I was not in many of the actual sessions and did not get to see the gubernatorial debate; however, what I was able to witness was just as interesting.  I was able to see people from all across the political spectrum shaking hands and conversing.  

I had heard criticisms of the conference.  People thought that not enough got done, that policy was not being made right then and there. 

However, what I saw showed me why the conference was important.  Here, (sometimes right in front of the check-in table) people at many different levels and from many different perspectives were talking.  Some of the conversation started with casual greetings and people catching up and every once in a while I was able to hear people speak frankly with one another about issues or situations that had happened.  It was interesting to me to see people with such strong and polarizing political ideals getting along.  It was obvious that people did not agree on situations but they were not making show, they were asking and questioning.  No decisions were being made here but even after a semi-intense conversation, there would be a hand-shake or a hug and they would go on with their days.  I guess this is what networking is all about.  These people may not vote the same way on issues or there may have been competition between agendas but I was able to see them as people.  

When I was able to get out and network myself, I was still nervous but found that once I was able to talk to one person, the entire process seemed easier.  People genuinely wanted to know what I had done in college and what I was planning on doing in the future.  Each person was passionate about the state of Michigan and many seemed to be selling the state to me.  Before the conference, I had been nervous that it would be a bunch of individuals much older than me who would not have time or find what I had to say interesting.  

As a recent graduate, I was among the youngest, yet there was an entire group of young professionals.  Speaking to them was just as fascinating. Getting to hear advice about job searching and the professional world from people who had just gone through the experience I was embarking on was helpful.  We spoke about the fact that graduate school was in the future, or had just happened, for many of us.  We talked about the difficulties young professionals face especially in this economic climate. We chatted about college majors and the fact that not everyone was working in his or her direct field of study. 

A few things I found very interesting from these conversations:  One, there are many people who would like to work in Michigan and who are committed to staying here but have a difficult time finding jobs (making networking that much more important). Two, the younger the person, the more positive the attitude about not working directly within one's college major. Three, many of the people I was talking to had already had a multitude of jobs and/or were working for small companies, and most of them were under the age of 30.

I gained networking confidence by talking to people closer to my own age and stopped worrying as much about saying something stupid.  As the weekend went on, I felt more comfortable striking up a conversation with someone walking near me or on the taxi (read: horse-drawn carriage).  I discovered that the individuals in attendance were interested in the youth of the state and were passionate about keeping people in Michigan.  

All in all, the conference was quite the experience.  I was able to be a fly on the wall and observe while also challenging myself on the one skill I know will help me move forward – networking.