Networking doesn’t have to be awkward. This
La Salle alumnus explains why

December 19, 2022

He’s dubbed ‘the Awkward Networker.’ By day, Sean Hand, ’09, holds a business development role with KPMG.

 Sean Hand, ’09, knows that networking can be awkward.  

Everyone has fumbled a greeting with a bad handshake. Or endured a long pause, unsure of what to say next. 

To make it more bearable to put yourself out there professionally, the La Salle University alumnus launched a website called Awkward Networker in 2015 to share the networking and relationship knowledge he’s gained throughout his career.  

“(My wife said), ‘Aren’t you always talking about how networking is inherently awkward and all you’re trying to do is make it less awkward for yourself?’” said Hand, who studied international economics at La Salle.  

This passion project started as a blog and has now expanded into a self-help book, That Was Awkward: 7 Secrets of an Awkward Networker, and public speaking appearances.  

Hand’s expertise in networking, he said, started at 20th and Olney. 

Sean Hand, ’09

At La Salle, Hand got involved with the Students’ Government Association and the Ambassadors, and worked as a tour guide. In the classroom, he said the faculty’s hands-on and motivating approach kept the curricula interesting. “Economics is a difficult field. It’s so challenging,” he said. “But seeing how all the pieces fit together on a global scale, that was really interesting to me.” 

He said his most vital experience came from the Leadership and Global Understanding (LGU) program. The LGU program is an academic minor that prepares students to become engaged citizens and civic leaders at local, regional, national, and international levels. Students are encouraged to be involved in the world around them, whether on campus, in the Philadelphia region, or abroad. The program led Hand, a Philadelphia native, to travel to Vietnam.  Hand’s first time boarding a plane at the age of 19 landed in Hanoi, Vietnam.

La Salle also allowed Hand to flex his networking skills with outside organizations. He landed a role at Big 4 accounting firm KPMG through a connection he made while volunteering at a charity event as a La Salle Ambassador. Since then, he has advanced within the company to his current role—Senior Director of Business Development—and found a professional home for the last 14 years.  

“(My wife said), ‘Aren’t you always talking about how networking is inherently awkward and all you’re trying to do is make it less awkward for yourself?'”

Occasionally, Hand combines his Awkward Networking work with his KPMG role by representing the firm at speaking events. He is lucky, he said, that the two roles complement each other. It allows him to bounce between two passions that ignite his creativity and productivity.  

Hand has advice for anyone looking to build their networking skills:  

  • Leverage your current organizations for connections, especially if they’re external organizations:
    • “Any organization you’re a part of, find any opportunity to represent that organization in other areas.  Trade shows, charity events, fundraisers, community events–it doesn’t matter.  Representing an organization is a great way to meet people confidently, because you don’t feel the pressure of only representing yourself.  You already have a purpose, mission, and brand to lean-on.” 
  • Say yes to every opportunity:
    • “Budgeting time for networking is the same as budgeting for your savings.  Put aside one hour a month to branch outside your comfort zone.  The next month, budget two hours and so on until networking and involving yourself in outside activities becomes a consist part of the time budget.” 
  • Tap into your alumni network.
    • This can be done through LinkedIn filtered down to a specific company or organization: “If there was ever a way to make a cold introduction a little warmer, ‘Hi, I’m [Name].  I’m graduating from La Salle University in a few months and hope to connect with other successful alums.’ is a great place to start.” 
  • Develop mentorships and take those relationships seriously by keeping your mentor updated and letting them know they’re helping further your career:
    • “Mentors are shrewd investors of their time.  They want a return on their time investment in you.  All they want in return is (a) to know you are taking their advice and making your life happier and better, and (b) you’re helping others in return.  So, if you’re lucky enough to have a faculty member, alumnus, or someone else operate your mentor–don’t forget to give them those constant returns on their investment in you.” 

—Meg Ryan