When I was a starry-eyed 18-year-old, just graduated from high school, I sent job applications out to every store in town. I wrote down my extensive volunteer service, my years of experience working for my dad’s business, and wrote a colorful personal statement to showcase how smart and charming I was sure that I was.
Halfway through the summer, I was still jobless.
When I shipped off to college that fall, my starry eyes were opened to the most crucial aspect of employment that no one had ever told me. It’s all about who you know.
Now, this does not apply 100% of the time. You can most certainly get a job based off of your merit, and many people do, but as a young professional, I was told time and time again that the key to success in the workforce is making connections. You have to find people who have a similar career path, build a relationship, and mutually leverage that relationship to catapult both parties forward into the money-making stratosphere.
In theory, that sounds great. I don’t have a problem making friends with people who share similar career interests with me. We can debate about which commercial from the Super Bowl was best or spend way too long coming up with funny campaign slogans for Viagra. I’m also fine with them asking me to put in a good word for them or slip their resume onto my boss’ desk. Why wouldn’t I help out a friend?
The issue I have with networking is creating artificial relationships. Connecting with people solely for the purpose of adding them to a list of phone numbers who might someday be useful to your personal gain.
If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you know that small talk is the bane of my existence. It is the silver bullet that buries itself right into my social discomfort. Sometimes, I can’t work up the nerve to ask the cashier how her day is going without over thinking it. So, how am I supposed to have a one-on-one conversation with a stranger where we dance around the reason we’re really there and instead blab on about our college days or how it’s been such a warm summer?
The thing I hate most about small talk while networking, is that it never stops. Even on the off-chance that this stranger decides that you might have what it takes to be a good employee, there is a time limit on their belief in you. Only so many months can pass before you have to reach out to them again or they can no longer count as one of your connections.
To: Person I Pretend to Have Any Interest In
From: Desperate, Young Suck-up
It’s been three months since I have last spoken to you. I realize that this might impact your ability to think of me first if a job opens up at your company soon. I think that we should meet up and have a trivial conversation about anything but the fact that you might have a job opening up at your company soon. To be clear, this meeting is not because I feel a void in my life by not seeing you or miss our meaningful conversation. No, this is only because I would like to advance in my career path.
I hope you can meet soon and haven’t been a waste of my time!
I Swear I Love Looking at 1,000 Pictures of Your Kids
Why can’t we all be honest? I just want to sit down with someone for 10 minutes and say,
“Let’s cut the bull. I’m here because you know my mom and she said that you might be able to help me get a job. Here are my resume and writing samples. If you like it, keep me on your radar if anything comes up. If not, tell me now before we order lunch and I can take off.”
While networking face-to-face is bad, don’t even get me started on LinkedIn. It calls itself the World’s Largest Professional Network, you know, unless you actually try to network with anyone. Google biggest LinkedIn mistakes and everyone will tell you that the biggest mistake you can make is reaching out to people about their specific company or open jobs they might have at the moment.
Why? Isn’t that why we list what we do and where we work? So that other people who do or would like to do similar things at similar companies can find us?
The proposed idea instead is to reach out and ask to meet up and talk, don’t make it about a job. As if the fact that you are the Creative Director of an advertising agency and I am a recent Advertising graduate isn’t obvious at all.
I get that making connections is important to being part of a community of professionals, and often times I like to talk to people in my career field because we have a lot of similarities. I just wish that I would stop being judged on my ability to small talk or force relationships with strangers.
Look at my work. Look at my experience. Let that tell you whether or not you would like me in your circle. We don’t have to grab a coffee.