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If ‘Networking’ Makes You Want to Vom, This Post is For You

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When I first moved to Washington nearly five years ago, I cringed at the idea of “networking.” I’d say I’m an extrovert, but this seemed so forced, so disingenuous.  While I made myself stay for post-event receptions, I would make a bee-line for the cheese tray (okay, I will always make bee-lines for cheese trays, I’m a Midwest girl). Then I’d grab a glass of wine to make the often awkward conversations and pauses go down easier.

It was even worse if the post-event shindig was actually called a “networking reception.” Are you kidding me? There was no way to live in denial at that point (“I’m not really networking!”). Talk about pressure.

Flash-forward to today, I’ve spent about five years working in communications in one of the most networked cities in the country. On top of that, I actually work for a company that helps people make serendipitous connections (a.k.a networking) every day.

So before you go hurl, here are some of the ways I’ve come to warm up to networking:

Spend little time focusing on titles

One of my old bosses once told me “Washington, D.C. is one giant recycle bin, so never be a jerk to anyone.” It’s so true, and not just in Washington. While you may have one, three or even five years on someone now, you may be working FOR them in three more years. It’s kind of like high school. Freshman and seniors never hung out together – seniors were way too cool for that. But in college, it mattered less. In the real world, it doesn’t matter at all.

Focus on networking with smart, brazen, genuine people who will go places fast. Don’t focus on the person’s title. Sure, it’s helpful to network with people higher up on the career ladder, but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s only important to network with people above you. It goes all ways.

Just connect with people

When it comes down to it, networking is just about introducing yourself and having a conversation. If people are at events, they are looking to meet people just like you are looking to meet people. This is probably one of the areas that took me the longest to be comfortable with. If you see someone standing alone (hey, it could even be me at that cheese table), smile and introduce yourself. It doesn’t matter who they are or who you are. Have a conversation – talk about anything, you don’t have to sound like the smartest person in the room.

If it helps, pull the “picture them all in their underwear trick.” All the people in that room are just people – they’ve all started at the bottom of the totem pole, they’ve all have had diarrhea, heck, some probably even cry when they see those Folgers commercials (no comment). Bottom line, you shouldn’t be afraid to talk to them.

Don’t let the jerks bother you

Sure, there are always going to be the disingenuous folks – people who talk to you and look over your shoulder for someone better, or people whom you’ve met before who purposefully act like they’ve never met you (they’re so important, remember?), but forget those people. Trust me, I’m sure most other people have too, or wish they could. The fact that they don’t want to connect with you is their problem, not yours.

It’s not a one-off, as my current boss says

Networking is like investing in a 401K – you should be in it for the long haul, baby. Don’t think, “how will this person help me tomorrow?” Those who do think like that are in the category of people you should forget. Networking is about helping others and building relationships with people, and relationships require work. After you meet someone, follow up with them every now and again. Connect on Brazen or on other social networks. Meet them for coffee or beers, or offer to meet up with them at their office if time is a concern. The bottom line: connecting is just the first step, your network’s usefulness ultimately depends on how well you build those relationships.

See, it’s not so bad, right?

Ashley Hoffman is Brazen Careerist’s director of communications and marketing. If you’re in communications or want to be, you should join Ashley and other professionals at this really cool event. Even though there won’t be a cheese table, she’d still love to connect.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • http://twitter.com/benjaminkohl Benjamin Kohl

    I need to bookmark this article. It is well-written and the content is spot on.

  • Anonymous

    I love these tips!! This topic gets discussed a lot, but you’ve got some really great perspectives. I especially agree with point one–I NEVER understood why anyone would uneccessarily burn bridges early on in the game.

  • http://twitter.com/kbrinnehl Katie Brinnehl

    Excellent post! Remembering not to think about “how will this person help me tomorrow?” is so important. As a job searcher myself, I think some of us often forget to think about long term when we are worried about finding jobs now.

  • http://www.brazencareerist.com/profile/ashley-9 Ashley Hoffman

    Thanks all! I had fun writing it and it’s something I think about a lot living in DC.

  • http://twitter.com/ApplyMate ApplyMate.com

    Nice work, Ashley. Spoken like a true pro :)

  • Jrandom42

    Not only does “networking” make me want to hurl, but any networking not defined by an IEEE 802.x specification makes me want to seriously hurt something. I find that I’m far more comfortable as an adult diagnoses Asperger and an intense introvert that I’m far better at “networking” with software and cats.

  • Heather

    Watched the Folgers commercial. Totally teared up.

    Great post!

  • Chrissy A Lewis

    nice article. Really great way to frame networking to take the sweat-factor out of it.

  • Jess Kalinowsky

    There are a couple of viewpoints about “networking meetings or gatherings” or whatever they are called. A high percentage of the time they are overwhelmed by people in high turn over industries that are ‘pushy’ and want to connect to every person in the room and shove their product or service down your throat. Then there are folks who are more low keys and just want to interact. None of us are better than the “jerks”. Some of us are the jerks! LOL!!!! When going to a networking meeting, have ample cards, and give them to people who are seriously interested in your product or service. Frankly, who can afford that product or service. i.e. if you are a Rolls Royce salesperson, giving cards to “everyone” may be a waste, or maybe even a insult. Not everyone on the planet wants to own a Rolls Royce! Well, except in Beverly Hills! LOL! But they are are leased, and get repossessed all the time! Pick and choose to whom you give your card, but be nice to everyone. Referral business from someone that cannot afford your product/service is very important. Some industries get a bad rap for their ‘pushiness’ , but that is the way they are trained. I guess it is a ‘numbers game’. Go to the meetings, enjoy yourself, but do not set expectations too high for return on investment. Go to learn from others and you will be a happy camper. [In my opinion.]

    • Iris

      Point taken, we should be careful before labeling others, though some people can be a little…not so kind at events,with some behaviors and mannerisms making you feel as though you are not important enough to even make eye contact with. Thanks for the insight!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jessica.swingle Jessica Swingle

    Hi Ashley – I, too, live in the DC area and struggle with my love/hate relationship with networking. well said.

    ~Jessica

  • Lynette Jensen

    Thank you Ashley. It’s a great, well written and sensible post. Really, in the end human beings just like to connect with each other – we’re gregarious – and I think it helps to approach the idea of networking as you’ve suggested.

  • http://www.brazencareerist.com/profile/ashley-9 Ashley Hoffman

    Heather – they get me every time. I just tried to watch it right now and I had to shut it down. It’s unbelievable!

  • http://twitter.com/peopledothat Jeff Lovingood

    Great article! More people need to know this information.The only thing I would add is to emphasize the last point: networking is an investment.

    I think a lot of people miss the point that they have to put in more than they take out. Connecting with someone via a social network, drinks or events should be opportunities for each of us to provide a benefit to that person in some way. I’m not going to waste my time with someone who sees me as a dollar sign. I’m going to spend time with people who see me as a benefit – to them, their company, their network.

    I will always give more than I get because favors always get returned. Not by the same people, but the value is there!

    • Iris

      That’s a very good point, not seeing people as $ and paying it forward and having “good karma”

  • http://parisianfeline.wordpress.com Tatiana

    This is great advice. I don’t really enjoy networking and find the very thought of it exhausting. I prefer smaller, one on one groups versus large networking events. It’s really overwhelming. But I’m glad you wrote a post that really broke it down; this is helpful. I’m always on the look-out for networking articles that lessen the anxiety associated with meeting new people.

  • http://twitter.com/anierenberg andrea nierenberg

    Ashley- I really enjoyed your post and totally agree with you! Continued success!
    Andrea R. Nierenberg

  • K Majorsky

    Love this post :)

  • http://twitter.com/Parachute4Teens Carol Christen

    Sometimes focusing on networking makes us lose track of the goal: building a network. A network can be a professional one or a personal one. Anyone who wants to be on the A team needs to know who all the other local, regional, national and international players are.

    In her last book, DIYU, writer Anya Kamenetz introduces the idea of communities of practice as a substitute for networking. Here’s a link to a newsletter article she did on the subject.
    http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs068/1101891863763/archive/1102855634875.html

  • Jess

    Fantastic post – fun to read, useful advice and genuine perspective.

  • Scott Messinger

    One thing to remember is that there are a significant number of people who simply have a very low need to be around others. I know I’m one of those people. All of the things I enjoy are solitary pursuits. Reading, movies (OK, I like watching movies with my family, but I have different tastes, so I was quite a few DVD’s on my own), working in the garage.

    The idea of networking used to fill me with dread, but now it just makes me feel tired. The thought of talking to all those people, about the details of their life which are completely uninteresting to me, just leaves me feeling exhausted before I even start. Then, the idea of having to call them back time and time again, to talk about MORE of the same stuff… yuck. All this for keeping up the pretense of a relationship, so I can have them as a contact at a later date.

    I don’t hate people. I can be pleasant company. I can carry on small talk for a while. But once the conversation is done, that’s about it. Out of sight, out of mind. Polite conversation is just for passing the time.

    • Guest

      I am also this way, can we do anything about it?

      • Brian Pearson

        I believe it is genetic, so we are pretty much stuck with the type we have. If you have read about Myers-Briggs, a mother-daughter team, you would know, for example that you may be an INFP. At the other end of the spectrum would be ESTJ. Read up on, it is interesting stuff. But to further answer you question, just try to get to know the other person better. Turn the table, so to speak, and casually interview the other guy with plain conversation. Where did you go to school? What major? Ask what the other person why he took his or her career choice. Who knows, maybe the interviewer would be more predisposed to getting hired. If you get the vibe that the interviewer doesn’t want to be interviewed, or if he says, “I’m the one doing the hiring,” Just suggest politely that you may not be interested in the job if you know nothing about him, hence the questions.

        Just thinking out loud…

  • http://togotutor.com/forums/forum.php Togotutor

    Nice post Ashley, I am with you here.

  • http://twitter.com/kaleighsomers kaleigh somers

    To your last point, I think the biggest thing to remember is that you should want to connect with these people. It shouldn’t feel like a chore to meet up with them for coffee and if they care about you and really form a relationship with you, if they later recommend you for something it’s going to be genuine–not forced.

    We have a feature on Uvisor where you can see who in your LinkedIn network is associated with the job you’re applying for. It works so well and makes networking almost easier because you don’t even have to find some fake relationship to cultivate if you already know someone who’s associated with the job you’re applying for. Pretty awesome and less socially painful.

  • Anonymous

    I am struggling with networking shyness on-line. My company has a new blog, and it’s looking like a noob in the on-line networking spaces, rather than the awkward conversations over wine and cheese straws that are the difficulty for me. I guess the first step is the same – putting the cultural and digital savviness gaps to one side and just saying “hello” – and working out the “rules” as you go along. As least I don’t have to wear my suit that I would have inevitably spilled dip down the front of by now.

  • http://www.everydaypublicrelations.com Kristina Summers

    great post and good advice!

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  • Paulette Melanson

    It doesn’t matter what industry you work in or what state you live or networkin in it is always the same. I always needed a “job” to do to feel useful when I first started out. Once I started to know a few people my usefulness became “mentoring” the newbies at our events. I was able to help people feel more secure at a networking event and just had fun with it, just talked to people like they were my next door neighbor. It works and everyone appreciates us ‘down to earth’ types.

  • Iris

    Thanks a lot for this article, it does give good perspective and food for thought. Best wishes to all!!

  • http://www.techteria.com/ TechTeria

    This is really a well written article and I would like to appreciate the editor of BrazenCareerist. Thank you!

  • http://www.getmyexboyfriendbackfast.com Steff @ ex back

    Hi Ashley,

    Spare me the guesswork and just tell me what to say already. I guess I just don’t have the brain to analyze people on the spot and come up with a relevant subject line. I don’t find their stories interesting, nor do I have interesting stories to tell them. Whar gives?