I’m not entirely sure how to start this post. As a twenty-something, trying to find my place in the professional world; this probably isn’t the thing I should be writing. I should be telling you that I am a networking master, that I leave any event with gangs of new life-long contacts who offer up their services at any beck and call.
But for a long time I hated the idea of networking. I felt awkward trying to start conversations with strangers; normally when you talk to strangers you chat about the weather or how they are quite correct, the bus services are nothing like they used to be. You don’t normally launch into an elevator-pitch that various websites or career councillors have had you re-hashing and repeating for the last four years.
However now I’ve been to a few, I feel like I’m getting into the swing of them more. I’ve learnt (read: nicked) a few lines that can open up a conversation which can swiftly lead past the pleasantries. I’ve grown professionally over the last year and gained more confidence in myself and the skills I can bring to the table as a result. This month I’m going to three events that promise networking sessions after various seminars or talks; and I can honestly say that I am looking forward to them.
Other than the nerves of having to effectively go and meet/sell yourself to a room full of strangers; one of the common things I hear people say about networking is that it is ‘all fake.’
People say that this isn’t a natural way to meet people; you are not meeting through chance or a shared passion. You meet with an objective in mind; an ulterior motive if you will. Hundreds upon thousands of websites will tell you that you should not go hoping to meet someone who may turn out useful in the future (as callous as that sounds) you should instead go with the idea of being able to help the people you meet.
In some ways, I agree with the people who brand it as fake. I go to these events to meet like-minded professionals; I’m not looking for a new best friend who shares my love of lipsticks. Obviously if I was to meet someone who did, that would be awesome; but that’s not what I go for. I go to meet other people in my field, to learn about their views and be able to talk about industry trends or events without boring the pants off my conversational-victim. So yes, the set up and the intentions are cultivated and therefore not natural.
If you go to networking events, not wanting to listen to other people once you’ve learnt their job title, then yes, all your networking is going to be fake. And you’ll probably come across as fake – or at least boring. If you go to collect business cards, so to speak, as many people still at university do, then there is no point.
LinkedIn and various business men and women refer to people as ‘connections’ and that is exactly what they should be. You should aim to connect with someone there. It doesn’t have to be a deep, world-changing connection; in fact if you manage this in ten minutes one of you is probably a little bit weird. Don’t spend the night before panicking about how you could help people or introduce them to others. Don’t go with the sole focus of finding someone to use to your benefit. Go for fun, go to get out of your comfort zone and connect with other human beings. Go so that you can talk to someone about a subject, who is actually as interested in it as you are – not a partner or friend that is putting up with your ramblings because their hoping you’ll shut up before the film starts.
Yes the people you meet might be in your field, they might have the job title you want, or know someone you really want to meet. But they are just people. Keep in touch if you can, or at least make an effort too. But I’m asking you (from the high perch I’ve apparently given myself) to view them as people not commodities.
If you go for a chat, and to make a new acquaintance, then no, in my mind that’s not fake. You’ve got honest intentions, and how can honesty ever be fake?