Career Advice

Networking Is Not Working

Every time I hear someone tell me that they are going to a networking event, my skin crawls. Networking events are meat markets where people size each other up based on utility. The Internet is teeming with recommendations for opening lines, data collection and extraction excuses from the moment you discover that the person in front of you isn’t useful after all.

Seeing other people purely in terms of what they can do for you is the essence of shallow. This is the universe in which sincerity (or authenticity) is the key to success. Somehow, having to work at being sincere or authentic is fundamentally flawed. Of course, if you are trying to be sincere and authentic with a thousand of your really close friends, it probably takes some work. Maybe that’s flawed. What do you think?

Jean Giraudoux, the French playwright is credited with saying, “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.” (He also said, “Only the mediocre are always at their best.”)

The idea that you can get a good job through the objectification of others is mercenary, at least, and sociopathic, at worst. Manipulating others for personal gain is the province of gold diggers and social climbers all over the world. Is that really how you want to be known?

To be sure, there are a few professions where making friendship a commodity is a useful skill. Most of us, however, live in a world where it’s a creepy way to behave. The next time someone suggests that you should ‘network’ your way to success, tell them “not so much.”

Still, you do have to meet people in order to make your way in the world. If meat markets are off the list, what should you do? If a good smile, a handshake and a copy of your resume are not sufficient, where do you begin?

  1. Always pay it forward. In every encounter you have with another person, give more than you take. Being known as a net contributor is worth 75,000 fake smiles.
  2. Join committees that are working to solve problems you care about. Working with other people is infinitely preferable to ‘leveraging their networks.’ Don’t get involved in things that don’t interest you. Being known for your work is worth 100,000 insincere compliments.
  3. Join things because you want to, not because it’s the ‘right thing to do’. Stay away from the Rotary club or the Chamber of Commerce unless you really, really think that rotating and chambering are your life’s calling. Flaking out and not keeping up with your membership is minus 90,000 gold stars.
  4. Read widely about your profession. Stay current on the latest trends and ideas. Being knowledgeable is worth 50,000 conversations with feigned interest.
  5. Always lend a hand when someone you know is in transition. These days, everyone’s life is in some form of disruption. There is no shortage of opportunity. Being a good friend is worth all of the money you will ever make.
  6. Don’t hurry, no matter how desperate you feel. You can’t hurry love and you can’t hurry luck. Being prepared and available is your responsibility. Stay productive. Being relaxed and self-confident is worth 30,000 LinkedIn connections.
  7. Have good boundaries about what you can give and what you can’t. Knowing your limits makes it possible to be reliable. Making too many promises is insincere (see the beginning of this article). Being good for your word is worth all of the other elements combined.