Networking as your authentic self: A new grad’s story of LGBTQ2S+ advocacy and personal growth

Posted 2020-02-03
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For many students, new graduates, and even seasoned professionals, the idea of networking can be intimidating. The thought of approaching a complete stranger and striking up a conversation at a conference or function can inspire social anxiety and some serious nerves.

When Tyler Edwards first enrolled in the Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) program at the UBC Sauder School of Business, he dreaded going to networking events. Even as a self-described extrovert, and an accomplished athlete who formerly competed for Team Canada in gymnastics, Edwards says he felt self-conscious.

“In my first and second years at UBC Sauder, I didn’t go to any networking events,” says Edwards. “I was terrified because I wasn’t fully comfortable with myself.”

 

Leveraging your personal identity

For Edwards, becoming more comfortable with how he positioned himself within the business community was a key step towards finding enjoyment in networking. A pivotal moment came in his third year at UBC Sauder when one of his friends invited him to attend a networking event put on by Start Proud Canada.

According to the Start Proud Canada website, the organization facilitates the professional development of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer & Ally (LGBTQA+) students as they transition from school to career in order to build a national network within the LGBTQA+ community.

“There was a panel of speakers and listening to them showed me that there were LGBTQ people who were involved in business,” says Edwards. “I had it in my mind that I was going to be one of the only ones out there trying to relate to the traditional business community and I didn’t want to do that because that’s not who I am.”

On the heels of his experience with Start Proud Canada, Edwards saw the opportunity to bring alike initiatives to UBC Sauder. He established the LGBTQ2S+ Student Representative position for the Commerce Undergraduate Society to “enhance the visibility of queer identities in the business community and encourage other students to leverage their personal identity for their own success.”

Edwards noticed more professional opportunities start to come his way once he became more comfortable in his own skin, and he wanted other students to experience the same benefits.

“Using your own personal attributes that really stick out is your leverage, that’s what makes you remembered. When I was coming into my own identity, I learned a lot about myself and my character. I had been hiding for so long, when I could finally grow into who I was, my positive traits were amplified. That to me is success, when you find out who you truly are,” says Edwards.

 

Networking tips and tricks

To feel even more comfortable in a networking setting, Edwards sought advice from his older sister, a successful Vancouver-based business professional. She gave him some simple tips to help break the ice and said, “Never leave a networking event with fewer than seven business cards,’” recalls Edwards.

He stuck to this rule at every event he attended and wouldn’t leave until he had reached his seven-card quota. He also jotted down one or two sentences on the back of every business card, detailing the nature of each conversation. That way, when Edwards asked to connect with the individual on LinkedIn in the days following the event, he could write something in his initial message that would jog their memory.

As another trick, Edwards prepared a few introductory, open-ended questions to ask before he approached someone at a function. “I would say, ‘I just have a couple questions for you regarding your career path and I’m wondering if you can answer them for me,’” says Edwards. Some of his other go-to queries included: How did you get into business? Would you change anything looking back? And what advice do you have for current students?

“People are equally as nervous to talk to you and I always kept that in the back of my mind,” says Edwards. “Professionals don’t want to have to approach you – you have to approach them, and that says a lot itself.”

 

Building community at UBC Sauder

Though he admits he was initially intimidated by UBC Sauder’s “go-getter” student body, Edwards says the smaller class sizes at UBC Sauder helped him build lasting relationships over the course of his degree. His work championing inclusivity and enhancing the community of the school also introduced him to people he may not have otherwise met.

Edwards formed strong connections with faculty members in addition to fellow students. He credits the high calibre professors at UBC Sauder for making his BCom experience so enjoyable and describes them as “second to none.” He sings the praises of Tsur Somerville, Associate Professor in the Strategy and Business Economics Division, in particular.

“Tsur Somerville is the best,” says Edwards. “He helps you network, he sends out jobs he gets from developers, he throws you into the fire with your work, and I used my capstone project that I did with him in my interview with the government.”

 

From networking to newly employed

When Edwards walked across the stage during his graduation ceremony for UBC Sauder on November 28, 2019, it was an opportunity to reflect on a formative period of his life.

“I didn’t think I was going to get emotional, but I cried,” says Edwards. “I thought about how this place has allowed me to grow so much.”

Edwards recently started work as a real estate investment analyst with the Government of Canada. Not surprisingly, Edwards met his future boss at a UBC Sauder networking event. They stayed in touch and when the job with Public Services and Procurement Canada opened up, he encouraged Edwards to apply.

As for whatever happened to those dozens of business cards he collected over the years, Edwards says they were put to good use.

“At the end of my degree, I pulled out those business cards and I emailed about 40 of them,” says Edwards. “I told them I had recently graduated and asked if they would go for coffee. I probably went out for 30 coffees.”

Though he’s already secured a job, Edwards insists that his dedication to networking will continue and that he’ll maintain a strong connection to the school that helped start it all.

“I’ll still go to networking functions and UBC Sauder alum events because it shouldn’t ever stop,” says Edwards. “The more involved you are, the more comfortable you get, the more people you meet, and there’s nothing bad that comes from it.”