I’m the poster girl for professional networking – college birthed me into the Big 4 accounting world of nametag luncheons and eating sushi appetizers while you tug on a tucked-in shirt. I’ve collected more business cards than I can count and have endured face cramps from unnatural smiling.

With two internships under my belt and a grad school application in the works, I have a few tips for people who feel just as socially awkward when networking as I do.

In this business casual/professional setting, “grin and bear it” isn’t enough; recruiters can sniff a robotic personality from a football field away. Here are a few tips to make networking and recruiting events easier – and hopefully help you land that 9 to 5 job of office floors and laminated badges.

Plan your opening remarks 

Mackenzie Patel

I hate the term “elevator pitch”; who creates earth-shattering connections in elevators anymore? It’s called Skype for Business and a conference call. However, I would prepare basic remarks such as “My name is Mackenzie Patel, and I’m a third year accounting major at the University of Florida…” Fumbling on the easy parts isn’t a wow factor for busy adults.

Speak slowly and enunciate

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Sharon Cho

Be bold with your words – own them, pace them out like they’re hanging off a sentence diagram, and be clear. Even if you’re not talkative, a few well-chosen words will lead to a $20/hour offer letter. And try to slow down; even-toned bullshit sounds way better than bullshit that’s tumbling out of your mouth.

Remember: professionals aren't untouchable

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Mackenzie Patel

Professionals are real people, just like your parents or the deli-slicer at Publix or the extremist preachers on your campus. Treat them like humans, be yourself, and find common ground to talk about. Goodie two shoes is boring, so present your authentic self (without the cussing, drinking, or meme jokes, that is).

Brush your teeth and avoid messy foods

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Mackenzie Patel

A recruiter might not remember your name, but they will recall that emerald piece of spinach in your teeth. In general, eating “easy” foods stresses you out less – you can talk, gesture, and laugh without fearing a spittle shower of tuna or mac&cheese on the professional. Mouthwash is a must, and a piece of gum beforehand doesn’t hurt either.

If you eat in a more formal setting (i.e. a fancy restaurant), proper dining etiquette is a must. 

Avoid uptight conversation 

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Mackenzie Patel

Tight-lipped smiles and general questions of “why audit over tax?” are human snooze buttons. After the initial introductions, “read” your partner and discuss topics you think are interesting to them. Is she wearing Michael Kors pumps with a Louis Vuitton clutch? Talk about fashion or compliment her earrings. Relax, throw out some vernacular, and have a normal conversation.

Score as many free things as possible

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Mackenzie Patel

Take advantage of being a broke college student with potential. Knowing that I’d escape with a free t-shirt and ritzy finger food made me want to socialize and earn those freebies through words.

During weeks of intense recruiting, I don’t buy dinner or lunch once during the week. Free grilled chicken and pineapple is worth a few moments of conversation.

Don’t drink any cocktails, even if offered

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Mackenzie Patel

Alcohol is *fantastic*, but I’d reserve it for drunk apartment shenanigans or after-exam celebrations. Even if drinks are offered, I would decline and make connections based on your own merit, not those of Seagrams, Smirnoff, or Jack Daniels.

Having to contend with social awkwardness is enough, let alone tipsy mumblings you might not remember later. Keep it classy.

Make small-talk memorable and “you” 

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Mackenzie Patel

This is similar to #3, but get rid of the idea that professionals are gods worthy of Oxford sentences and schmoozing. Take your personality out of a straight-jacket and be yourself, even if you’re awkward and obsessed with puns. Leave the professionals with a witty quip or two for them to remember you by.

Take mini breaks in the restroom or lobby

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Mackenzie Patel

Bathroom stalls and Hilton sidewalks are a refuge from ice-cold rooms and pressed blazers – so take advantage of them. Step out to take a call, collect your thoughts, or compose your “I’m ready to be a badass business bitch” face.

Socializing is exhausting, so reward every half an hour with a handwashing or Listerine rinse. This will also keep you continually refreshed and avoiding the glazed-eye mask.

Don’t stress out

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Mackenzie Patel

I know it’s easier said than done, but there are millions of “important” people to meet – if you botch a few at your local school, it’s not the career apocalypse. A misguided handshake or awkward comment won’t destroy your future; they provide feedback for the next event.

Accounting firms are always crowding UF's business lobby throughout the semester; a student will never run out of professionals to meet.

Networking might not be easy, but with practice and a few pep talks, it will become more comfortable. Trying to score an internship from strangers is a skill all college students should be familiar with. So pull on those ballet flats and comb those flyaway hairs because you’re about to be successful.