When you’re a graduate student at The Fuqua School of Business, even the fortune cookie that you get with your Chinese takeout food gives you the same advice — “attend receptions, send emails and make yourself memorable.” It’s a concept that we’ve heard over and over again as we learned about professional networking, which was my biggest cultural shock as a student trying to get accustomed to the American way of things.
There are a hundred resources, books, and mentors teaching us how to network correctly, but it’s meaningless if you don’t enjoy it. The idea of networking seemed a little awkward to me at first, but there came an interesting twist in the story when one of my favorite things to do in school — playing ping pong (table tennis) — turned into an incredible way for me to meet new people and make new friends.
The ping pong table at Fuqua is almost always occupied, often with 3 – 4 enamored onlookers huddled nearby. Legend has it that the table wasn’t always a part of the business school, and while an old, used table appeared about two years ago, the summer of 2013 saw better days with the addition of a brand new ping pong table and paddles. I began playing to de-stress in the evening with my friend Chris, and the game has now become an indispensable part of my daily schedule. It also affords us bragging rights when we meet students from other graduate schools!
While the competition can sometimes get intense, the games always end the same way — with a friendly handshake. The relationships I have built over this game surprise me at times. I not only made good friends in my program, but even with the first- and second-year Daytime MBA students.
At the ping pong table, I met people who want to work in the same firms as I do, who readily share tips on their job search process, and folks who have experience in the industry that I want to enter who always have a few words of wisdom. I even met some who went to my high school and undergrad in India! Truly, it’s a small world, and there’s no telling what you might learn during a simple game of ping pong.
The pace of graduate school can be overwhelming, so let’s un-complicate some things. Play a game with a stranger, raise a toast to your victory or theirs, and walk away from the table adding one new person to your life. LinkedIn is great. But it just doesn’t match up to a good game of ping pong.