Networking and Ass-Kissing

12 Apr

Following up on Sarah’s questions about networking, I have a question of my own: why does networking always seem like ass-kissing, brown-nosing, being THAT kid who you just hate for their unflinching slickness. You know what I mean? I have felt downright greasy when I’m “networking”: asking strategic questions, talking myself up, and weaseling around conversations. There was a time when I felt disgusted with my handshake, business casual, and resumes in tote.

There is clearly something so off-putting for our generation about this “networking” thing. We’re told time and time again that it is what happens and to get over our emotive barrier, but the feeling of a conversation solely for the benefit of a job disturbs my moral compass. And you cannot just check that at the door. I can not look someone in the eye and make small talk when I know at the back of my mind that I’m doing it for wholly selfish ambition, nothing more.

Now would be the time in the post where I say something like: well, this is how you reframe your mindset to think of networking as a good thing. No, that’s total B.S. If you don’t feel right about what you’re doing, then stop doing it.

Instead, I would recommend thinking about ways to focus on doing meaningful work for others (solve other people’s problems) and developing a personal brand/reputation. This is clearly more labor intensive than shaking a few hands, calling people up, exchanging cards. It’s about being so impressive that others feel compelled to help you. It’s about having your work speak for you.

Now, this seems rather strange and possibly counter-intuitive. But think about it: how much can you really prove to someone in a single five-minute or even 15-min conversation? You can say or do enough to be liked, but you haven’t proven anything about yourself to people that will forget you instantaneously. But if you have enough contact with someone, you’re no longer networking. You’re in a relationship where you share about yourself and have opportunities to show your work. Networking is about limited-timeframe, single-goal interactions. Building effective connections  is about meeting cool people, helping them, and showing them why you’re valuable. They may give you a job or they may become a good friend. The secret is that it doesn’t matter because you’re giving and getting either way.

Yes, it may help to learn about more jobs through traditional “networking,” you’re more likely to get a job from relationship-building.


5 Responses to “Networking and Ass-Kissing”

  1. Scheherazade April 27, 2010 at 11:20 am #

    Hey guys. Psyched about this blog, and wish I could meet you in person.

    Here’s the way to think about networking that might help. If I sent you an email and told you that my cousin is a senior in high school, was just admitted to Middlebury and another couple of NESCAC schools and wanted advice, would you talk to her?

    Most people I know would be glad to, and might even look forward to it. If you wouldn’t be glad to, then you need to start helping other people with small favors like this. Networking is a small favor — what you are asking for is the equivalent of what you would do — what you ALREADY do — willingly.

    Think more about this conversation — your willingness to talk to my hypothetical cousin stems from your feelings about your own life and the choices you’ve made, not from the worthiness and accomplishments of my cousin.

    To get better at networking, think about helping in ways like this more. Look for opportunities to do stuff that is easy for you but meaningful to the recipient. There are dozens, and you’re probably already doing a lot of them. It gets fun to look for more ways. Then you won’t be so tangled up and paralyzed when you ask for help.

    There’s more to say about this, and you are right that the idea of networking can be paralyzing, and that it can come across as sleazy and self-promoting. I try not to use the word with students, because it has so many artificial and negative connotations.

    (Don’t get me started about “personal branding”….)

  2. Ryan K. April 27, 2010 at 11:36 am #

    I certainly like what Scheherazade Mason, Assistant Director of Career Planning at Bowdoin College, says above. It’s solid advice. You become an impressive candidate not just by a single encounter but by consistently helping others. Be generous —

    And if you’re a liberal arts grad, generosity should come naturally. So get out there!

  3. Sarah April 28, 2010 at 4:22 pm #

    Scheherazade, that’s an awesome way to think about networking. Thanks for the input. I think the trouble a lot of grads have with it is that we don’t know how to ground our understanding of this career tool. Are we marketing ourselves? Are we brown-nosing? Are we subtly fishing for job? Is it all of those things, or none of them? But the idea that networking i’s just an exchange of favors that people are all to happy to do, because it’s an extension of their passions, is not only illuminating, but relieving to hear. Thanks again!


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