Hello, Gentlemen and stewards of manliness!

My name  is Silviu and I am in need of some advice, not from family, because that advice has not changed and, though helpful, is somewhat narrow, but from a  community of achievers, doers, and mentors.

I'm on the verge of entering my 20s in June. So far, I have only had one job, for almost two years, till present, as a cashier at a Pharmacy. My social life is minimal, I have 3 or 4 real friends that I could count on, and I don't know many girls, though we get along fine as acquaintances. I'm physically average, I visit the gym about once a week. I don't have any particular hobbies, though I watch Formula 1 racing every weekend, so I might like karting.

My problem? I don't know how to find opportunity, I don't know the ins and outs, I have no insider knowledge on pretty much anything. I've always felt like an outsider, at work, at church, at school, even among my own friends. I know my job is costing me opportunities, theoretically, but (you've heard this before) "the economy is so bad I'm just sticking to what I've got." I don't work hard and I don't laze about. All I know is that I'm not living my potential. Yes, I'm working 40 hours a week and going to community college, but it's not getting me anywhere.

I've applied to George Fox University in Oregon and will be attending there in the Fall.

What should I know about networking?

How can I find a mentor? Who can I trust? Who shouldn't I trust?

How can I be myself, keep my principles and yet make progress in my career, hopefully find a spouse and get real things moving along, like a marriage, a house, my own car, my network, hobbies, etc.?

I feel like I've no leads to anything anywhere.

So, based on what you've read, what should I be doing and what should I not?

I appreciate your input

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1. I can relate to the feelings you express about being an outsider. I never made friends easily. I don't have the out-going personality favored in the US, especially among young adults. I was often overlooked for parties - not, I don't think, because I wasn't a nice person, I was just quiet and easily overlooked.

2. You're actually ahead of a lot of people your age. You've got work experience in a growing sector. You're going to a nationally-ranked school.

As someone with less than 10 years' experience over you, here's my thoughts:

A. The key to networking in college is just to keep it in mind and make a basic good impression. For peers, just be yourself. For older people, mostly just be sincere. You don't have to be as suave as someone with 30 years' experience in business. Be able to talk about yourself un-self-consciously. For everyone, get contact information and touch base periodically - I'd say once or twice a year for people not directly related to your day-to-day life. More often for people who are local and in your field.

B. I think you've got the cart before the horse on career issues and mentoring, though. Do you have a career chosen? If not, what you need is an older person you get along with who's seen a lot of the world. My college mentor was a prof who'd had about 4 careers before his last stint in graduate school. A professor with a long academic career, but with administrative experience would also be good. If there's work-study programs that introduce you to business people off campus, so much the better.

If you do have a chosen career, it's still about the same. You want someone you get along with, with lots of experience. In 2013, it doesn't need to be someone nearby. Look around among your parents' friends, at church, etc. for someone in the profession with whom you already have a connection.

C. Trust for what? Career advice? Life advice? To feed your cat? On advice, I'd say the most trustworthy people are the ones who don't have all the answers. Who say, "I don't know, but you should ask X about that" or "Once, I did this, and it was a mess. Don't do that."

D. I find that romantic partners and hobbies find you. You don't just decide one day to find a wife and start a set of hobbies; you try a lot of things, meet a lot of people, and stick with what you like. Don't be afraid of being the new guy or not very good at something. The point of hobbies is not excellence at the activity but forming yourself into an excellent person.

I appreciate your response, Rebekah, and I found point C interesting, I'll take your word for it on D.

I met my husband on the subway. We were both engaging in our favorite hobby - reading classical philosophy. My whole undergraduate program was philosophy, so I can't really say the hobby found me, but I've stuck with it more than my college friends.

Thanks for your input, Rick.

I have decided to major in Business management, but I'm keeping my options open to computer science, as well. I found your mention of student-staff events interesting. I didn't know anything about that. And your comments on conversation were also insightful.

Again, I appreciate it.

Most schools have some (relatively) small budget for faculty to host students. In my experience, these budgets are never used up because both sides are shy. At my tiny college, the money went to faculty hosting students in faculty's homes. At my larger graduate school, there was that, as well as money for students to take professors out to lunch. GFU is small enough that the "mixers" might not be by department, or even formally announced. Keep your eyes and ears open.

Another great way to network in college is to become a leader in a student organization. This gives you an excuse to call up anyone with any knowledge of any of your organization's interests and invite them to come speak to your group. The worst that can happen is that you get no response. The best that can happen is you meet the President. There's usually some budget for this kind of thing too, as often times such guests expect their travel expenses to be covered, and there can be speaking fees. The budget may come from student fees through the administration, or the student groups may have to fund raise through bake sales, etc. or some combination of these set-ups.

Wow! That's really interesting, I mean about the student organization. I thought about it before at my community college but it was towards when I was getting ready to leave (this quarter) so I never involved myself in that. And thanks for the heads up!

Getting to know your classmates is a great idea, and so is finding a professor with a research project. I never thought of that second one!

I appreciate the advice and examples. You've been really helpful!

Talk to classmates and profs; that's a common way to polish networking skills; and pick a major that will get you a good job (and that you can stand to do).

Getting a job is also why I switched from Architecture to a Business degree. Thanks for the input

The good news is you are average, the better news is you want to do better.

You have a new future at George Fox University, the hardest task you will have is managing your grade and getting out of the school with minimal debt.  The GPA does not care if you took a hard writing class or an easy A class.  Your Major will determine your future options.  A hard Science & Engineering major is worth more.  But ONLY if you and a 3.0+ GPA It is worth much more if you have a 3.5+ GPA.  That opens the first door your career and future.

Before you hit the University figure out how you wish to portray yourself.  Dress well for degree you wish to go into and the professors will notice.  You want "inside", you want a mentor, dress for it.  I have a friend who is getting his undergrad in business information systems.  He ALWAYS wears a suit and Tie or bow tie.  Maybe not the jacket every day but at minimum dress casual with a tie.  He had a professor hunt him down in the hallway to offer him a scholarship and mentor him.  Why? Because from day one he cared and respected the class he took.  If you don't understand something bloody well ask.  Someone else in the class is also lost and is too afraid to ask.  YOU will be remembered they will not be.

All of your professors will know who you are in your core classes, it is how you present yourself that sets up your future.  That is your in.

Your class mates will form the core of your network, do homework with them.  Join whatever club is in your field of interest and get a leadership roll.  It will help in your interview process later.

As to having only a few real friends, that is the way it is and should be.  You need a few real ones for support and many casual friends and contacts.  Don't think that people really have 20+ real close friends, no one does or could.

Take solace in the fact you are thinking about it now and not at the "I wish I had..."  You are really in a great place in your life.  

David,

I find it interesting that you say I'm average. Most people have family friends that have some connections. I don't. Some have parents that went to college to be able to guide. My parents barely speak English. Others have traveled and that's opened up something special about them...I haven't.

But I honestly don't pity myself. I have many things to be thankful for.

Thanks for the advice on networking and my public image. I just have one question: Do professors still care about your dress? I mean, at my community college, I was regularly well-dressed, with slacks, a shirt, and sometimes a tie. I'm pretty sure no one cared.

Sorry for the delayed reply,

You said your parents barely speak English.  I don’t know what language you speak in the home but that already sets you apart from your American raised cohort.  The best networking I could imagine for you is something so subtle as to be missed.  If you don’t already know it, learn your parents’ home language.  Regardless of your career goals, being fluent in more than one language will open many opportunities for you in the states.  Most will think of international business but even in engineering, the sciences, art & history the ability to pull cross-cultural references will give you an edge.

When I hit college I chose a career path away from my father’s connections because I wanted to earn my path.  You can make your own connections by keeping up with friends and making good connections in college.  Most of the people you meet will fade away but a good memory and a casual facebook / linkedin connection later in life can open doors. 

As to your question: “Do professors still care about your dress?”  I know they do, because you stand out from the rest in a good way.  Your Community College is a much more transient place.  Most are only there for 2 years or a few for those taking classes on the side.  At a University the professors are there doing research in their field and teaching people from undergrad to PHD students.  The students in the masters programs are much better known by the professors.  If you start off your interactions with the professors as that guy that always dresses well, you will have an easier job of networking with the professor then the guy that is a slob, or the guy that does not care about my class.  It still majorly counts how you do in those classes and how you carry yourself.  But starting at a good impression it is easier to ingratiate yourself then starting off with a poor impression.   

Remember from the question for the person you are asking for help from is, “do I want this guy to represent me?”  Would you want to have your name associated with a slob or a person who makes a good impression and dresses well? 

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