As long as she finds a job that involves trips to other countries and helping people once she gets there, Mia Tucker will be happy.
“I want to do something with cultural studies. You know, traveling cultural studies, helping out people,” said the junior from Lookout Valley High School.
She figured she needed connections to get where she wants to go, so she was one of the students participating on Thursday, March 9, in the annual Career Speed Networking Program at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
For the last several years, UTC has partnered with the nonprofit Education Equal Opportunity Group to host the program. The theme for 2023: “Talent is everywhere; opportunity is not.”
In three-minute bursts, about 150 students from five area high schools—The Howard School, Red Bank High School, Tyner Academy, East Ridge High School and Lookout Valley—sat in chairs directly across from representatives from Chattanooga businesses and organizations such as EPB, the Public Education Foundation, FirstBank, CHI Memorial and Publix.
Students used the first 30 seconds to introduce themselves. The next two minutes were spent in a mock job interview and, in the last 30 seconds, students were offered advice on how they could improve their skills for job interviews. Students then moved on to the next business expert in line.
Speed networking helps students learn skills that aren’t taught in schools, said UTC Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Engagement Stacy Lightfoot.
“The folks that they will be speed networking with will teach them how to shake hands properly, help correct some of their responses and answers to questions these leaders will be asking them,” she explained. “It’s a mock interview and who better to give you tips on how to interview than people who give interviews all the time?”
Marie Webb, senior vice president of human resources and chief talent and Inclusion officer at EPB, was keynote speaker at the Speed Networking event. Many students she meets don’t know they already have the skills to succeed, she said.
“They don’t realize that they are in control, that their choices, their mindset, their attitude, their willingness to work hard are the tools they need to be successful, so they already have it in them,” said Webb, a trustee on the UC Foundation board.
Tracey Armstrong Davis, college and career advisor at the Howard School, said her students were nervous before the interviewing began, but once they’d done a couple of interviews, they’d gained a good deal of confidence.
“I’m going around asking all my students, ‘How’s it going? How are you feeling?’ Because everybody’s so nervous about talking to someone, but they’re like, ‘I’m good. I’m feeling comfortable now,’ Davis said.
“It’s helping them understand the importance of networking and meeting people, asking questions, asking about internships, asking about job shadowing. They didn’t know to ask some of those things, so this is a great experience for that.”
Before his first interview, Tyler Berry, a Red Bank junior interested in a marketing career, wasn’t too worried.
“I’m confident about talking to people,” he said in a quiet voice.
Lookout Valley’s Tucker was on the opposite end of the spectrum.
“I’m kind of nervous about this kind of stuff because I talk to people, but when it’s professional, I’m like, ‘Oh, man,’” she said prior to first interview.
She needn’t have been. During her interviews, when she wasn’t listening intently, she smiled, enthusiastically moved her hands when she talked and often broke into laughter with her interviewer.
Chris Ramey, senior vice president and financial advisor at Pinnacle Financial Partners, has participated in the Speed Networking event in previous years and said he has heard a common theme from the students.
“They ask, ‘What’s the secret? What’s the magic?’ Ramey said, “and I say, ‘It’s not one thing. It’s a combination of things.’
“Start with making up your bed every morning. Start with picking up your shoes at night. Start with doing one little new thing that helps you get good habits going because habits are what creates success. That pride and that habit that you create will spill over into work.”