Oct1720089:47 am

“The fear of looking like an idiot”

In the New York Times, Alina Tugend describes the trouble with networking:

Networking brings up many of the same emotions as dating—fear of rejection, fear of looking like an idiot, fear of overstepping boundaries, fear of failing. And even if you can overcome those anxieties, you have to know how to do it right. Networking is more than meeting and chatting with lots of people, more than swapping business cards.

I couldn’t agree more. As I describe in Working World, networking for me (at least in the traditional sense of attending events and pressing the flesh) has always been a panic-inducing endeavor. Tugend offers some useful and practical advice, especially when she admonishes job seekers to be realistic in their networking—”don’t set yourself up to fail” by saying you’re going to attend two networking events per day or meet 20 people at each event. Such expectations are unrealistic and will ultimately be counterproductive.

But I think Tugend misses a key point, especially when it comes to networking in the fields of international education, exchange, and development—it is beneficial to network at all times, not just when and because you need a job.

Tugend quotes the director of career services at Duke University:

You must know what your goal is—not the long-term one of getting a job, but the immediate one of that particular conversation.

In this statement is inherent the idea that you must have in mind a tangible outcome for every networking encounter. But in my mind, approaching a potential new member of your network armed only with the idea that you must get something out of them, and if you can’t get something out of them then they are of no use to you, is troublesome. Networking is not just about “selling yourself” with your “elevator pitch” so that you get an immediate short term result. True, when you’re looking for a job and the economic times are tough, you may not have the luxury of looking to cultivate relationships over time. You need a paycheck and you need it now. This is understandable and I would never dissuade anyone from doing all that they can to land the right job for them as quickly as possible.

But I bring up this point because I think it is vital, when networking, to engage people for who they are, not what you perceive they can get you. This is especially true in international education, exchange, and development, fields in which relationships play a heightened role in the work you do. A person can sense when you’re not truly interested in him but are only engaging him because you think he can get you something. People respond well to genuine interest and enthusiasm; they respond far less favorably when it’s clear all you want is a job, a tangible result, and then your use for them will be done.

When we engage on a personal level, we are invariably better networkers, and thus end up selling ourselves more effectively. When we are truly interested in the person and what they do, our enthusiasm and passion will shine through.

One final point Tugend makes about networking:

Finally, listen to the messages you are getting. It may be painful to acknowledge, but perhaps you need to reconsider your job expectations, at least in these economic times.

This comment flashes back to our discussion on why it’s so tough to get a job in IR. Is it okay to “settle”? I’m still not so sure…

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