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Want to Network? Skip the Happy Hour One week before Professional Development Day, AU Staff Members Weigh in on What Makes a Worthwhile Career

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A student takes notes while sitting at a table, listening to a lecture. Other students are siting next to him in the background.

In the never-ending search for professional knowledge, it's easy to get overwhelmed. That's why American University's School of Professional & Extended Studies is gearing up to host their 9th annual Professional Development Day, a conference that will offer a variety of workshops, trainings, and info sessions to sharpen skillsets that are crucial to career progression.

Students who attend on Wednesday, June 21st should expect to not only learn the basics of advancing their careers, but also acquire the crucial know-how to be several steps ahead of their peers.

David Fletcher, the Director of Career Development at American University's School of International Service, is one among several esteemed faculty, AU Graduate Programs, NGOs, and other AU offices showcasing opportunities and know-how to attendees. Having done this work for multiple organizations and schools at AU since 2005, Fletcher contends that his "Networking like a Pro" workshop will provide essential knowledge for new professionals entering a job market that is increasingly difficult to stand out from -- especially in Washington DC, a metropolis that Fletcher describes as "a city of connection."

"What makes you stand out as an applicant out of a vast pool of people that are qualified candidates, usually, is [having] a personal connection," he explains.

He goes on to tell students, that when they find themselves deep in the trenches of the job application process, "you need somebody on the inside who could vouch for you, whether it's an alum from your school, whether it's a faculty member from your classroom who works there -- somebody you met that stuck up a conversation."

Indeed, according to LinkedIn.com, a whopping 85% of all jobs are filled via networking, and utilizing one's networks as designated cheerleaders is an effective way to remove any doubt potential employers might have about prospective applicants.

By now, this is common knowledge. That's why Fletcher's workshop will take this topic one step further by clearly defining the dos and don'ts of networking while equipping students with the best tools to start early in their networking process.

"What I'll tell students when I talk to them in a week is: start today. Don't wait until August, don't wait until you're about to apply [for jobs]. Make the outreach now, be diligent, and seek out connections where possible."

One interesting myth that Fletcher wanted to dispel right away was about networking at large, busy events. His verdict? Don't even bother.

If students find themselves in a noisy, crowded atmosphere while trying to network, Fletcher's golden advice is for students to "take it off-channel." Meaning, students should feel encouraged to hand their target audience their business card and connect with them later via email to ask them for coffee. Asking later on for one-on-one time opens the floor for deeper relationships to unfold.

All in all, one statement that best describes effective networking is summed up by one of Fletcher's last remarks: "Networking is relationship building. It takes time."

Another professional development topic that requires ample time to build up is self-reflection in the context of career preparedness. That's why Christine Steiner, the school's Assistant Director of Outreach for Graduate Professional Online Learning, crafted a special session entitled "Taking Charge of your Career Development Through Self Assessment."

Steiner's workshop will walk students through the cycle of career development and will leave attendees with a personalized portfolio of assessments that could help offer insight into one's combined skills, personality, values, and interests -- four areas that Steiner believes are essential aspects in overall job satisfaction.

"The job market is more competitive now than it has ever been, and that puts a lot of pressure on students and young professionals to feel that they need to fit a perfect mold of what an employer is looking for. While it certainly is important to keep in mind the skills that an employer wants, you don't want to forget what might be best for you."

A study reported by Forbes supports her case, claiming that "self-awareness is the most crucial developmental breakthrough for accelerating personal leadership growth and authenticity. Learning to pause to build self-awareness is an evolving process critical to leader success."

Whatever workshop students attend, be it the aforementioned sessions or one from 10 faculty-hosted workshops from which to choose, attendees should be excited to receive cutting-edge advice from professional development leaders from across American University.

For more information on how the School of Professional & Extended Studies equips students to effectively navigate critical junctures in their careers, visit http://www.american.edu/spexs/.