How to Network and Not Hate Yourself
I remember seeing a doughy young man recite his accomplishments to an Amazon recruiter at a job fair. It was the end of the Tennessee summer and the basketball-arena-made-fairgrounds made no apologies for the conglomerate of youth sweltering in their blue sport coats and khakis chinos or fitted off-gray dress-suits and patent leather shoes.
It was an embarrassing affair but one worth experiencing.
It taught about the ways that I did not want to interact with my potential employers.
For me, and I would imagine a lot of you, networking seems like such a farce—pretending to be interesting and interested in another person. It’s a kind of mating ritual we do, and instead of exchanging gametes, we exchange business cards. There have been times where I’ve had to perform the same thing—but it’s worth noting that dance did not give me the job I have now.
1. Stop Thinking About Them As Potential Employers
These aren’t people in some kind of human zoo for you to gawk at and feed resumes. Most likely, this is someone from the HR department who wanted to go on a trip (or in all reality didn’t) who has to talk to hundreds of twenty-somethings for a few hours. It’s not exactly the most enjoyable thing for them to, so don’t treat them like a job-machine. A simple How are you? Or How’s it going with this thing? will make them feel a lot better about you.
2. Don’t Recite
It’s often easy after writing your resume to treat it like a script. I have talked to many recruiters and I often hear the same thing—you can tell when they’re performing. And I think that’s true for all of us—when someone is insincere, you can tell. They focus more on themselves than on the other person, they restrict themselves to the first-person past-tense. The verbal resume is enough to make my skin itch.
Instead, ask that person about themselves. Ask them about the job, and when it comes time to talk about you, you’ll feel less rehearsed, which is a great thing! Have a real, human conversation. I often think about the purpose of language, to communicate and exchange ideas, feelings, etc. We often forget the exchange part. Appearing as a real human being will help with the feeling of grossness.
3. Be Genuine
It often gets repeated in resume writing classes—don’t lie. And this goes for all aspects of networking, please don’t lie. Don’t lie about accomplishments, don’t lie about Wow you’re super interesting let’s talk more (as money wads dance in your head like a cartoon wolf). There’s often talk of being actively interested in other people. I think that’s important, but you can’t feign interest more than you can feign a degree. At some point, it all crumbles and you’re left with a hollow shell of a relationship.
4. Learn to Converse
Conversation can actually be a tricky thing. When I was younger my dad, swept up in the finery of the South, enrolled me in cotillion. So I learned to waltz, and eat, but more importantly, I learned how to have a polite conversation. Here are some things that you may have forgotten when trying to talk to someone new for the first time.
- Give good eye contact—though it’s not actively noticed, subconsciously they know you’re interested and you’re listening.
- Answer with details—there’s nothing worse than having a conversation with someone and they ask you a question, then you sandbag them with a yes or a no, effectively terminating the conversation. Add some detail and some flourish to the way you answer.
- Don’t interrupt them—you may have something that you feel is incredibly interesting to add to the conversation. However, at least in American culture, it is incredibly rude to interrupt someone while their speaking. You might not only squander you job, you look like a real jerk.
But if chichi cotillion rules don’t work for you, why not try drama?
If you’re stuck with nothing to say to some woman in a sharp business suit who has the potential to change your life with a job, try the History/Philosophy/Metaphor from improv comedy.
- History – You bring up something from your past.
- Philosophy – you bring up a way you feel or think about something.
- Metaphor – You create an interesting (or nonsensical) comparison.
We’re often taught that you should ask question about the other person, but those will likely lead to the sandbags that I talked about above. You may end up asking a simple yes or no question, and find yourself in a nigh-inescapable situation.
5. Practice for the love of god practice
Though it may feel like pulling teeth in a turgid swamp, conversing with other people in a business setting can actually help you in many areas of your life. Other than the obvious job prospects, being
able to have conversations will make you feel better, release the reward chemicals in your brain. Talking and sharing can be electrifying in the right situation.
But Mason, you yelp, I’m an Introvert/Shut-in/GeekNerd/INFP/INTJ (or whatever they call it now), this is The Worst™. Unless you have a serious social disorder that has been diagnosed by an actual professional, you may have narcissism creeping through your veins. Spending a lot of time away from people and conversation puts you into a comfort zone, one that may actually be toxic and difficult (yet necessary) to get out of.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Be Funny
Though some people might consider it gauche in these situations, but being funny and gregarious are great ways to achieve in-roads with new people. As I’ve said, these are real people, not just dollar bills in suits. They have lives outside of the job fair, so treat them like a friend. Joking around with someone after you’ve gotten to talking can make a substantial impression. They’re much more likely to remember the kid whom they riffed with for a few minutes, than someone who handed them a resume and unleashed their barrage of qualifications.