Karla Nieminen was a frustrated secondary school student. She felt unable to get to know people and hold a discussion as well as she would like. Nieminen was the type of person to say what she had to say, but any kind of unnecessary chatter felt alien to her.
She did hear some relationship advice in school, for example to approach people in a friendly manner.
“This kind of general rule is OK, but not enough by itself,” says Nieminen. “I wanted more concrete advice.”
An avid reader, she started to devour American relationship guidebooks, and began to discover practical tips on how to get to know people. Nieminen practised starting conversations and asking people how they were doing.
“It is important to practise in order to develop your relationship skills, and you need to get used to making mistakes as well. It’s not even possible to master everything so well that you never make a mistake. A better idea is to think of mistakes as part of the learning process.”
Significant relationships start at university
Karla Nieminen is inspired by challenges and overcoming them. She taught courses in advanced maths and physics at upper secondary school and decided to study engineering at the then Helsinki University of Technology.
She chose electronics as her major but switched to industrial engineering and management after a few years, when Nieminen realised she was also interested in issues related to business life.
Nieminen participated in all sorts of student activities, from the Guild of Electrical Engineering to the student horse riding association.
“Participating in student activities benefitted me also later in working life. I built networks and got a lot of new friends at the same time. I became familiar with engaging in cooperation. I also learned a lot about boardroom work on the boards of associations.”
There was no shortage of parties, so it was possible to meet new people constantly if you so desired.
“Otaniemi is a fun place for a student in the sense that parties, home and school are all close by. You don’t spend time on travel, so Otaniemi people can easily party and network with one another.”
Nieminen was also a member of Prodeko, the Guild of Industrial Engineering & Management, when studying at Aalto. Nowadays, she’s on the board of Prodeko’s alumni organisation and will serve as it chair in 2019.
“Thanks to all the self-help guides I had read, I understood early that it made sense to get to know the alumni. At parties, I’d never hesitate to go sit with alumni who were unfamiliar to me. Back then, most students preferred to spend time with each other.”
Students these days hear more about the benefits of networking, says Nieminen.
“Concrete benefits include summer jobs gotten through alumni and, more generally, mutual learning. Cooperation is valuable in many ways for the alumni as well.”
Noticing how enthusiastically today’s students participate in the organising of shared activities pleases her.
“The Department of Industrial Engineering and Management has also facilitated our alumni cooperation. For example, we’ve been given the use of facilities and resources.”
The alumni-student cooperation consists of excursions, peer learning and various happenings.
Sales skills are relationship skills
While still a student, Karla Nieminen founded a company called Jäänmurtajat Oy (Icebreakers Ltd) through which she started providing instruction in relationship skills.
She has a lot to say about entrepreneurship.
“An aspiring entrepreneur gets a lot of help from the University, such as theoretical knowledge and instruction in analytic thinking, cooperation skills and even a bit of networking. Sales-related instruction was, however, woefully absent when I got started. After all, a company does not succeed because it has a good product, it’s succeeds because it manages to sell it!”
The incipient entrepreneur often fails to understand the significance of sales – or what sales is really all about.
“You need to grasp the nature of sales correctly: it’s about helping.”
Sales and relationship skills are, according to Nieminen, interconnected in many ways. Someone with good relationship skills can see things through the eyes of others and has a desire to help. Similarly, a good seller will actively attempt to provide assistance.
“The way university people talk about the world of business can, at times, resemble a comedy sketch. Some people’s views are quite removed from reality. In real life, nobody gets stuck thinking about which product’s code functions most perfectly. Quality is of course important, but the significance of marketing and sales is enormous in practice.”
“Things often have to be decided rapidly in business. You make your choices quickly and move on. There is rarely time for analysis as thorough as would be made in an academic setting.”
Nieminen acknowledges the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management’s efforts to understand the world of business in its teaching and research.
Lunching with strangers of interest
These days Karla Nieminen works as a procurement analytics consultant at Sievo Oy. Both the programming skills acquired during her electronics studies and her familiarity with industrial engineering and management are important in this work. The company was founded by Department of Industrial Engineering and Management alumni, and Nieminen first heard about the job through an alumnus friend.
The well-networked Nieminen can invite someone to lunch or a meeting even if the other person is unfamiliar to her. She often hears the question “how did you know each other?”
“People wonder how I thought to contact them and who had introduced us. But there doesn’t need to be a specific connecting factor. If you run across an interesting person online, you can reach out even if you don’t have a friend in common.”
Nieminen also thinks that success in working life is not decided by smarts alone. The overall mix of traits and relationship skills is decisive.
“Workmates who generate a good mood around them are in high demand.”