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My Awkward Approach to Networking

Networking reminds me of when I was young and my mom would ask some random kid at the playground – a complete stranger – to play with me.

The kid would look me up and down, leery, but would comply anyway because she felt pressured to.

Satisfied, my mom would smugly retreat to a bench and smoke her Benson & Hedges, while I played with this stranger, both of us feeling awkward and mortified.

And that pretty much sums up my thoughts on networking. It feels forced, sales-y, and can even be slightly lecherous. I’m going to follow that person into the bathroom. It’s the perfect networking opportunity!

When I decided to go back to work, I knew I would have to “network.” For starters, I was crossing over from journalism to marketing, and I needed all the connections I could get.

Every career article I read encouraged me to “get out there and network.” “Find someone doing what you want to do and just talk to them! How can they say no?”

But having someone take previous time to talk to me touched on that deep insecurity that maybe I wasn't worth it. Coupled with the fact that I was looking for a job, which is already deflating, and no wonder it brought me right back to the sandbox.

Despite my tender feelings, I begrudgingly networked anyway. I was careful to limit my mission to information-gathering only. The pressure to work in a subtle "So, can you see me working for you? Cuz I can!" was too much. Plus, I really did just want to hear about their jobs. I targeted people I already knew, said I would only take 15 minutes of their time, and stuck to that.

Much to my surprise, almost everyone was happy to talk with me. I got some good advice, some needed encouragement, and even a job lead. A couple of people asked to limit our correspondence to email. Others plainly – but politely – explained they didn’t have the time. I understood, respected that, and moved on. And I got the information I was seeking.

I recognize, of course, that this kind of networking is pretty amateur. Vastly different from networking for the purposes of getting a job. I am still learning this one, but it's getting easier.

What has helped me is adopting a totally different mindset that relieves some of the pressure. The best way to develop a network is to build a good reputation. Networking isn't something you “do.” It's something you earn.

Early in my job search, I took a Copyblogger course on content marketing. Near the end of the course, it offered what I like to refer to as “tips on how to not be an asshole.”

It talked about expanding your network organically to open doors and opportunities. This is how I took notes on the subject:

“Be nice to everybody. Treat everyone with respect. Because word gets around. Cultivate relationships with interesting people doing stuff you find fascinating. It doesn’t have to be in line with your career goals or work. Build your network out of people you admire. Show up. Pay attention. Don’t lie.”

That really resonated with me.

Now I tend to my network as one might tend a garden. Planting seeds, taking pride in my work, and helping others along the way. Knowing, trusting that the rest will come, the doors will open.

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