• Ginger Dempsey – International Programs Academic Specialist, Pamplin International
  • Jim Henderson – Associate Director for Employer Relations, Career and Professional Development
  • Hannah Landers – Career Services and Employer Relations Manager, Pamplin College of Business
  • Donna Ratcliffe – Director, Career and Professional Development
  • Wynne Reece – Senior Talent Acquisition Lead, CapTech


On April 29, Pamplin International hosted a virtual panel focused on helping international students build their professional network. 

Ginger Dempsey, international programs academic specialist, facilitated the discussion. Joining her were panelists Jim Henderson, Hannah Landers, Donna Ratcliffe and Wynne Reece, who helped her explore how to successfully network virtually and in-person. The conversation centered around the panel’s personal advice for students as well as the multiple resources available through the university to aid students in establishing professional relationships.

Panel Discussion:

Question from Ginger Dempsey:

What is networking and what is it not?

Answer from Jim Henderson:

Henderson is the director for employer relations for Career and Professional Development. He contributed his expertise to the conversation by stating what networking is not.

“I’ll tell you the first thing that it’s not. It’s not just making a connection on LinkedIn and then doing nothing with that connection. I have hundreds and thousands of connections on LinkedIn, but if I don't have any interaction then I wouldn't call that networking.”

Henderson emphasized the importance of discovering commonalities between students and the people they are networking with.

“I think it’s finding that common denominator to begin a conversation and then growing that relationship over time … that’s why our alumni association is such an important piece as one tool for networking because Virginia Tech would be that common denominator. ”

Answer from Donna Ratcliffe:

Since 1984, Ratcliffe has been working for the Career and Professional Development office. In response to the question, she reflected on a piece of advice she had heard previously.

“I once heard that it is better to ‘net-worth’ and not just network. Meaning, that it’s not just a matter of what I can get from somebody but what is my worth that I could offer them in terms of information, my talents, my experiences, my education.”

Question from Ginger Dempsey:

Why is networking important?

Answer from Wynne Reece:

Reece is the senior talent acquisition lead at CapTech; she has led the IT consultant recruiting efforts for the Richmond area for 18 years. Based on her experience, she stressed the importance of networking by recognizing the valuable role that networking played in helping her climb the ladder in her career.

“When I think back to every job or internship I've ever had, most of those connections that I made in order to get an interview were because of people I knew.”

As she was conversing with her fellow panelists, the senior talent acquisition lead stressed that you can network with anyone, not just leaders in your industry who already have established themselves in their careers.

“When you think of networking, you usually think of some big person that is going to be unattainable, but it can be anybody. It can be someone that you’re working part time at the coffee shop with. Who knows what's going to happen with them down the road?”

Answer from Hannah Landers:

Landers, the career services and  employer relations manager for the Pamplin College of Business, highlighted the importance of networking by drawing attention to the value of starting to build your network early on in your career.

“I often hear from students that they think networking is something that they can start later, but I think it's important to think about networking as an important [to-do] item because you are never going to have as many contacts as you do now, while you are here at Virginia Tech.”

She reiterated this point saying, “The more people you know, the more opportunities you can have in the future.”

Question from Ginger Dempsey:

What are the benefits of networking that may not be immediately obvious?

Answer from Wynne Reece:

Reece provided the following insights, claiming that a benefit of networking is that anyone in your life can end up being important to you professionally.

“I never would have thought that some of these people that I went to high school or college with would be people that would end up being really important in my professional life.”

She also noted the importance of reserving judgement.

“Be careful about making judgments too quickly … You want to be respectful to people and always think that you could run across this person and that the two of you might be in a professional setting together one day.”

Answer from Jim Henderson:

Henderson added that sometimes the most rewarding aspect of establishing professional relationships is helping others. 

“If you want to be a good networker, be a good friend to others.”

Networking helps students build two-way relationships, meaning that both of the individuals within it provide value to each other.

Answer from Donna Ratcliffe:

Ratcliffe encourages those who have the specific career interests to share their occupational interests and credentials with those you have an established professional relationship with.

“Give your resume to people you know. Give it to your professors, advisers, members of an organization that you're in now, or alumni who are in that organization so they can keep you in mind when conversations come up that are relevant.”

Question from Ginger Dempsey:

What is the first step of developing a professional relationship through networking?

Answer from Hannah Landers:

Landers' answer was straightforward.

“First, is obviously introducing yourself. I always say that a good way to get that conversation rolling is to start asking questions.”

Expanding on her point, she identified the amiable and outgoing nature of recruiters.

“Typically, if you're talking to a recruiter or something like that, these people are extroverts. They like to talk. So, getting them to share something about their journey or their company is a wonderful way to get the conversation started.”

Answer from Jim Henderson:

Henderson agreed with Landers and pointed out the benefits of researching the person who you want to network with.

“Know who the person that you're going to be speaking to is because information is power. Depending on who that person is that can guide the questions that you ask and that may help you build that connection a little bit sooner.”

Question from Ginger Dempsey:

What are some rules of etiquette that should be followed when networking?

Answer from Hannah Landers:

She warned students of being too aggressive when beginning to network.

“Oftentimes, students think that networking is asking for a job or asking for something there in that conversation and it’s really more about building relationships.”

It is worth noting that you cannot force a relationship. Networkers need to build rapport first by being engaging and conversational, before asking for professional favors.

“You’re not really going to get something immediate from that conversation and that’s okay. You’re still getting a contact and you’re still maintaining a relationship.”

Answer from Wynne Reece:

“Sometimes students and adults don't know when to end a conversation. So, some of the etiquette that would be important is to read the person you're talking to.”

As the leader of IT consultant recruiting efforts at CapTech, Reece is extremely familiar with the importance of making a good first impression.

“You’re making a first impression. So, have that worthwhile conversation. Have it be a few minutes long, but then let that person network with other people, and you move on to other people.”

Question from Ginger Dempsey:

What is the difference between in-person and virtual networking?

Answer from Wynne Reece:

“Obviously, the interactions are going to be a little different. In-person networking is a great way to get that conversation going. Then you can pick up [the conversation] later with that virtual networking.”

Answer from Donna Ratcliffe:

Ratcliffe was of the same opinion of Reece regarding the importance of utilizing both in-person and virtual networking. Simply stating, “the combination is excellent.”

Question from Ginger Dempsey:

How do you continue to network when in-person networking is no longer possible?

Answer from Jim Henderson:

Henderson responded first, calling out the importance of students reaching out to alumni for advice.

“If you're job searching and you have a list of 10 companies that you're interested in working for, find the Virginia Tech alumni who work within those organizations, reach out on LinkedIn, and just ask for a 10-minute informational conversation.”

He also presented the following advice regarding LinkedIn groups.

“One thing I highly suggest on LinkedIn is to get familiar with LinkedIn groups. There are thousands of LinkedIn groups and these are people that go into a group that have common interests. You can even start your own LinkedIn group.”

Question from Ginger Dempsey:

What online resources are available to students in regard to improving their networking skills?

Answer from Donna Ratcliffe:

As the director of Career and Professional Development, Ratcliffe had no shortage of online resources available to Virginia Tech students. She listed multiple resources including Hokie Mentorship Connect, Career Shift and Going Global, which are all platforms that connect students to employers and alumni.  

She also reminded the panel that although drop-in advising is currently suspended due to COVID-19, advisers from Career and Professional Development are still available to help students develop their networking and professional skills via Zoom.

“Career and Professional Development office, we are in business! We are taking appointments right now as we always have.”

Question from Ginger Dempsey:

How can students who have English as a second language use what they may perceive as a linguistic barrier to their advantage? How are they perceived by the people that they are networking with?

Answer from Jim Henderson:

After 11 years of working with the Employer Relations team within Career and Professional Development, Henderson shared his findings about employers’ perceptions of multilingual students.

“Employers are always looking for students or people that have different skill sets. A student's skill set, be it a different language or different experience, sets them apart from those who don't have that skill set. Employers are looking for some unique skills and I think a lot of our international students have those skills.”

Answer from Hannah Landers:

In her answer Landers acknowledged the heightened anxiety that international students feel while networking when they are not confident in their English fluency. She provided advice based on her observations of students networking at career fairs, recommending that students remain calm and to talk slowly and confidently. 

“Take a breath and be slow in the way that you are communicating.”

Answer from Wynne Reece:

Acknowledging the role anxiety plays in networking, Reece offered advice to help ease students’ nerves.

“The more prepared you feel can also help you because you don't feel like you're scrambling for thoughts.”

Reece added to her point by reflecting on how the world of work has evolved over the years.

“These days of diversity and inclusion, companies are really looking for people who can add to their culture. Gone are the days where we just say we want you to fit in. We're looking for people with a diversity of backgrounds and interests and skills because that all really helps a company grow.”

Question from Ginger Dempsey:

What are some cultural nuances of American networking that international students should be aware of?

Answer from Hannah Landers: 

Landers answered first, reminding students to respect others' personal space while networking.

“With in-person career fairs there's a challenge for international students and domestic students alike, where it's loud so you’re trying to get close enough to someone so that they can hear you but you're not screaming at them … Taking cues from the person that you are talking to so that you are able to talk so that you can hear everything you are saying clearly, giving them enough space because that is, especially now with everything going on, making sure that we are giving people their personal bubble.”

Answer from Donna Ratcliffe:

Ratcliffe closed the panel by advising international students to learn how to communicate whether there are cultural values that they are unwilling to change and to learn how to adapt to American cultural nuances when possible.

Recognizing that the values and culture you are raised with are a matter that is “close to the heart,” she ended the panel recognizing the importance of respect.

“There are differences but I think that they are to be respected.”

Written by Julia Vaughn

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