I was standing right in front of the registration table outside the room, seeing these event coordinators rushing in and out trying to look calm with a professional smile in their face. One of the project head of Networking Night named Jed was outside the door, ushering the attendees and company representatives inside. I took the chance and ask him in a faint voice, “what is there that is causing your team to look uneasy?”
I was waiting for the answer amid the silence, thinking whether he heard my question out of my faint voice or not. As the final flock of people went in, he answered my question, “Well, the event is not going as what we have expected. Aboitiz is one of our long-term partners and we would like to meet their expectation for this event to continue the partnership next year. However, due to some externalities and the promotions of the project itself, there weren’t enough attendees for today.” The disappointment in his voice was obvious. As I take a glance inside the room, it was true that the seats are not filled with attendees. Instead, there were a line of blank seats reserved for the representatives and another line of seats where the core team is seated.
Driven: Networking Night is an event organized by the Corporate Relations department of the Ateneo Management Economics Organization (MEcO). The organization partnered up with the Aboitiz Group of Companies to bring a networking event to students looking for internship and job leads. The highlight of the event was a networking proper where discourse between company representatives and the students took place. This was preceded by a supposedly inspiring talk from Aboitiz Groups of Companies. While students attend these type of talks to build networks, the network they try to build turns out to be a fishing net cast by the companies that they are unknowingly trapped into.
DRIVEN: TO INSPIRE OR TO MARKET?
As I went inside the venue, I noticed that everyone was already in their own groups. I did not know anyone and was even the only one who went there alone. Participants already know each other, with most of them being from the same course and organization. I felt that I was the single attendee who did not belong there. When one of the speakers asked to see who were students not from the course of the organization, people beside me were glancing at me, perhaps waiting for me to raise my hand. They had probably noticed that I was not one of their orgmates.
During the talks, I noticed how disinterested many students were. A lot were on their phones, even as the speaker was standing in front of them. Some students had their heads down on their laps. And upon inspection, it was because they were hiding their phones under their tables. Many students were chatting with their seatmates. But when I had listened in to the conversation of the people beside me, they were actually talking about the event and their career choices. It seemed that only a few were interested to listen to the talks. It concerned me that by the end of the second speech, a lot of students had already left.
Although holding companies, like Aboitiz, are also prospective companies for me to work for, I would admit that I was not very attentive in the talks. It was hard for me to listen especially since the speakers did not opt to use Power Point presentations.
Since I also participated in the talks, I understood why the students were bored. And a lot of these students who did not finish the event probably just attended for their attendance to be counted. I had learned from an organizer that MEcO members were given incentive to attend the event. This would also explain why most attendees were MEC majors as MEcO is the home organization of the course.
One of the organizers I talked to told me that there were only five people including me who were not Management Economics majors. This make sense because the partner company, Aboitiz, is an investment holding company. It would not be surprising that students from this course would be interested in working for the aforementioned company. Added to this, Aboitiz Groups of Company is one of the long-term partners of the said organization. Thus, it is not surprising that most attendees are from MEcO. The lack of representatives from other courses may be due to poor advertising of the event. Although there were many tarpaulins of Networking Night around the campus that week, it was not advertised to be an event open for all. Upon investigation, it was found that only in the organization’s Facebook page does it say so. Logically, only its members would be following the page. But in general, this event was made for and attended by business majors.
The event did not have a dress code unlike most networking events of other organizations. I was told to wear anything presentable, so I came in a short-sleeve button down and jeans. I thought it was more than enough. Nearing the venue, I was surprised to see students wearing full business attire. When I had left for the bathroom, there were even two girls wearing professional outfits and putting on make-up. But as more and more people piled up inside the room, I was relieved to see other students wearing their casual look.
The talk started with a short video presentation from the Aboitiz Group of Companies, showing their company’s mission and vision and all their subsidiaries. Conforming to Filipino Time, the event begun thirty minutes later than the supposed time.
The series of talks conform to the theme “Driven.” As the first speaker said, each one of us has a lot of things to do each day, however, one can observe that only those things which we’re driven to do are the things that we love from the depth of our heart. Thus, concluding the statement by saying that the drive behind our actions is essential.
DRIVEN TO EXCEL. The speaker was an Investor Relations and Budget Officer of Aboitiz Equity Ventures. She shared how she manages to do well in her career while being a triathlete. She spoke of how her bosses at Aboitiz have always been supportive of her undertakings.
DRIVEN TO LEAD. It was given by a Business Development Manager of Pilmico. He talked about leadership and what constitutes to a leader. The speaker said that leaders are gregarious and adaptive, and Aboitiz fosters those traits in him. He works for Pilmico, Aboitiz’s flour milling company, and was a proud alumnus of MEcO.
DRIVEN TO SERVE. The third speaker was an HR Manager in PETNET, Aboitiz’s venture in the money remittance business. He shared to the audience how his work allows him to do what he loves, i.e., serve, not only through the company’s philanthropy and efforts in corporate social responsibility.
As I observe how the talk are being delivered, a question rises upon my mind. Is the event held to inspire young adults in pursuing the career of their choice or is this event held for Aboitiz Groups of Companies to market themselves to the attendees? The talk goes through as if these speakers are given the task to sell the ideology that Aboitiz is a great company that supports its employees and fosters leadership traits within their employees.
As I was given the chance to attend the post-evaluation of the core team with regards to Networking Night, it was confirmed that not only did attendees feel like Aboitiz is trying hard to “sell” their company to them, but also the core team themselves. The son of the Chief Finance Officer of Aboitiz Equity Ventures is part of the core team and he confirmed the statement by saying that Aboitiz are targeting Ateneans to be their future employees because they have the bias that Ateneo produces the best graduates. That is why the series of talks seemed to be like a sales talk rather than an inspirational talk to the audience.
NETWORKING: BUILDING RELATIONS
I was sent to JSEC together with six of the logistics and food committee to help in setting up the tables and chairs for the networking proper. The seven of us sat around one table and started preparing the signs that aim to serve as guidance for the representatives and the participants for each table.
We had a chill and relaxing atmosphere while setting up. The yellow lightings in JSEC was naturally dim which adds to the chill ambience within the area. There were also a few bumping sounds that were produced by the collision between the furniture and the chairs. After the set-up, the entire JSEC was filled with murmurings and laughter produced by both the workers from the caterer and the core team as they were having fun talking about random things. One of the core team even connected someone’s phone to the sound system to have music while we were setting up. The music contributed to a more comfortable and enjoyable environment while chatting with each other to kill time.
Although I was just a volunteer and they were all part of the core team and sub-cores of Networking Night, I didn’t feel out of place because of the effort they exerted to bring me into their conversation. It was a little hard for me to relate on what to do next since I wasn’t part of the team. However, with their guidance, I could feel that I am part of the team in making this event happen. I didn’t need to give a significant effort to merge in their conversation. They initiate to engage me into the conversation by frequently asking for my opinion about the topic being discussed.
As the clock stroke 8PM, the core team from the talk informed us to get ready in ushering the representatives and participants for the networking proper of the night.
As according to what have been planned, participants are to be divided into small groups based on their top 2 company choices during the networking proper of the event. There were 10 tables set up in JSEC with each table corresponding to a specific company with representative speakers. The list of companies is as follow: Aboitiz Equity Venture (A), Aboitiz Equity Venture (B), Aboitiz Equity Venture (C), PETNET (A), PETNET (B), Weather Philippines Formation, Unionbank of the Philippines, Aboitiz Power, Pilmico and Republic Cement.
The division of participants among the companies was not even. There were tables of respective companies with a large number of students wherein the team would need to provide additional chairs for a table good for 12 people. While there were tables of respective companies that are only filled with three to four students. Given these kind of situations, the project head instructed the core team to filled up the seats of those tables who have few participants. With this, the networking proper of the night didn’t look that stagnant.
I went to occupy the PETNET A table which has no participants at all due to the company representative arriving late. The students who originally signed up for the company were already distributed among the other tables. Thus, the table was filled with the core team of the event.
As the speaker sat down, he gracefully greeted us and asked for our names. After that, he immediately proceeded to the highlight of the night. He asked, “So what do you guys want to know about PETNET?” There was a moment of silence because I think we weren’t familiar with the company since we didn’t get the chance to sign up for a company we know or would like to know.
The speaker noticed the situation and proceeded to his next question, “Or what do you guys want to know about life after college?” This is an easier question for us to answer, thus, the discussion begins. It was a fruitful discourse between the representative and the participants on that table. We were able to gather information such as the advantage of a multilingual person in finding for a job and the average wage the person receives compared to other fresh graduates.
In the middle of the discussion, the project head announced that we may line up for our food and get back to our table right after. With everyone being hungry by 8:30PM, we all agreed to line up and continue the discussion later.
At the end of the networking proper, he was kind enough to give us his calling card and told us to contact him if we need internship opportunities. Given that the company representative has a lot of working experience for he had already worked for 17 companies, his connections will really help us in getting an internship. I felt fulfilled at the end of the event because I was able to gain insights regarding working after college and build relations that might help me in the future.
NETWORKING IN THE PHILIPPINE CONTEXT
Networking events are not yet common in the Philippine culture, instead, there are more career talks being held than networking events.
In a career talk, students listen to whatever the speaker delivers and gain insights from the speech. The only chance students get to participate will be through the open forum. Usually, it is only the big universities that hold career talks for their students regarding internships and job opportunities. Aside from the big universities that holds career talk, organizations of various universities also hold a smaller scale of career talk through their projects.
The usual target participant of this type of events are college students starting from Sophomore to Seniors. It is obvious that seniors participate in this kind of event to gain job opportunities through building relationships with the HR representatives of each company. While the Juniors attend a networking event or career talk to gain information regarding each working field and possibly internship opportunities. Sophomores would attend events like these to dabble in the job recruitment scene. Most seniors and juniors would already have prospects, but sophomores went here to network, not so much to look for an internship or a job. At the end of networking events, HR representatives usually give out calling cards to the participants. This serves as a goal for some of the participants since they will be able to gain a direct contact for their resumes to be sent.
Companies participate in networking and career events by sending HR representatives to universities as speakers for the event. Companies participate in events such as these because it provides an avenue for more personable access to students which resumes, phone calls and other forms of indirect contact does not. Additionally, a company would want to enhance their visibility among college students, would-be-hires, and a networking event would do so.
Fittingly, it seemed like the event was held merely to showcase Aboitiz as a company. Without saying it, each of the talks was about why the successful speakers chose to work in Aboitiz. It was clear then that this event was more about displaying how Aboitiz is a great company to work for, rather than for looking for potential hires.
- What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?
I have gained insight on how the workplace might be like. Although I did not attend to hope to get hired by Aboitiz, some insights the speakers have given were actually universal to students who are preparing for their future careers. One speaker made me rethink my whole perspective on choosing which companies to work for. Perhaps I should not only be looking at which companies are big on CSR, but I should also be looking at companies whose very nature is in directly, rather than implicitly, helping people and/or the environment—just as how PETNET is able to assist Overseas Filipino Workers.
During participation (sitting down during the networking portion due to lack of participants), I was able to raise questions to the HR representative. I was able to gather a few new information such as employees who are able to speak languages aside from Filipino and English actually get a higher wage compared to other employees. He also told us his various experiences in different fields because he had already changed his job for the 17th time. He told us that the course we are studying now might not affect what we do in the future since we are business course students. He said that college knowledge will only affect your future job if the future job requires heavy knowledge such as Doctors, Accountant and others. Through participating, I was able to experience what participants experience, their curiosity regarding the world out there and the anxiety they feel regarding their uncertain future.
- What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
One organizer told me that most attendees of this event were second year students. Sophomores went here to practice their networking skills—not so much to look for an internship or a job. This information gives an alternative reason as to why the participants were not very attentive. It may be possible that they were just more interested in participating in the networking portion of the event.
- What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?
On interviews or surveys, students might be embarrassed to admit that they were not too interested in listening to the talks. It was clear to us, however, through observation, that there were only a few students who were. Interviews and surveys are greatly affected by participant bias. Participants tend to lie to make themselves look better.
- For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?
An interview or a survey might be better if a particular event is time-consuming. It is also easier to do an analysis on interviews and surveys since it follows a set structure—as opposed to observation which is more variable.
- Using our cafeteria observation exercise as reference, what insights did you gain about Philippine society and culture from the event that you observed and participated in?
There is a great value given to permanent full-time jobs. As early as the first year, college students are already looking for job and internship opportunities. The ultimate goal after college is to get hired. This is why career fairs and networking events are prevalent among colleges and universities.