Posts Tagged ‘Networking’

The professional networking blowhard

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

I myself have ranted and railed in the past about my dislike of “networking events”, my discomfort with and general poorness at the entire of concept networking, and how if you do go out networking, try not to look like a dirtball (I even once ventured into the parallels between networking and food). So I thoroughly enjoyed this post on the prototypical DC “networking blowhard” from why.i.hate.dc:

If you’re like me, you hate the entire idea of these sorts of things. Does anyone really believe that some dude you meet at a happy hour and exchange your “program assistant” business cards with will really be able to get you a job somewhere? There are a few problems with this logic, the first being that anyone who has the power to truly influence hiring decisions won’t be going to a networking event at the Front Page. Second, if you do have any sort of influence at your organization, you aren’t going to go out on a limb for someone you barely know. Third, the economy is in the toilet and there’s 500 people applying for every job opening in this town.

As such, these events are often attended by the person I’ll describe as the professional networking blowhard. This is the guy (or girl) who absolutely has to tell you about how amazing his job is, and how much he has accomplished in the 23 years he has been alive. Did you know that he went backpacking in Asia and is so tired of seeing temples that he will be happy if he never sees one ever again? Also, when he studied at Oxford, his flatmate from Mehhh-He-Ko (Mexico) taught him about the perils of the Zapatistas? What does he do now? Well, he works on an important program at [prominent non-profit]. You’ve never even heard of where he works, but don’t worry, he’ll tell you all about it. If you work for another non-profit, or a government agency, he’ll have a story about how just the other day he ran into the executive director (or cabinet secretary) of where you work. “Yeah, I totally ran into Secretary Chu downtown and we talked about renewable energy. He’s a nice guy.”

Sherry and I have often emphasized the point why.i.hate.dc is getting at: networking events that seem more like adult versions of high school mixers are far less worthwhile than those events or occasions at which you are actually engaged with people and a subject you really care about:

You’ll find the real people to “network” with at events that have some sort of meaning, or that revolve around something you are actually interested in. Reach out to people who write things you enjoy reading. Attend a community meeting about a topic that you feel is important. Volunteer for something that’s a bit obscure and isn’t filled only with people trying to deal with liberal guilt.

Basketball as the new golf

Sunday, June 21st, 2009


“What’s the hottest invite in Washington?” former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers asks… “It’s a pickup game with Obama. That’s the inner, inner, inner sanctum.”

A terrific article from Wright Thompson at ESPN on the nature of networking in Washington—and how Obama’s love of basketball has made after-work and weekend pickup games the best place to advance your career and your political agenda. It’s long but full of great moments, especially if you like sports or are interested in the inner workings of DC, or both.

One of my favorite insights from the piece is how a game of basketball, unlike the small, privileged foursome that comprises a round of golf, is disarmingly informal (trash-talking abounds and once on the court, everyone is the same, no matter your rank or position) and far more inclusive, giving even the lowly interns and assistants a chance to get their feet in the door:

This is the dramatic difference between basketball and golf. Nobody’s taking an intern to play golf at Congressional Country Club. Basketball is much more democratic. During a break, [Sen. Bob] Casey is talking to scheduler Courtenay Lewis, explaining that she should treat him like anyone else.

“I fouled you, and you didn’t call it on me,” he says.

“Well …”

“You should have,” he says.

Will job-hunt for food

Thursday, May 21st, 2009
DC job hunter Michael Volpe pulls out all the stops.

Good lord, it can be tough out there. From today’s WashPost, a pity-inducing yet somehow inspiring profile of a young Peace Corps alum’s quest to find gainful employment. With all other methods yielding zero tangible results, the intrepid, fearless, and apparently void-of-ego Michael Volpe has taken to the streets and Metro stations of DC with a bright orange sign around his neck announcing the fact that he needs a job:

He has applied, among other places, at the Department of Energy, the State Department, USAID, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and scores of nongovernmental organizations.

He walked into the offices of National Geographic with his résumé. They suggested that he volunteer as an usher in their movie theater.

Ouch. Perhap even more impressive than Volpe’s persistence and willingness to embrace such a “when all else fails” method of job hunting is his ability to overcome networking shyness—the article tells of how Volpe is “soft-spoken and finds it challenging to muster up the courage for a public crusade.” I count myself among those who find it tough enough to muster the courage to attend a regular networking event, let alone hang a sign around my neck in public. But kudos to Michael for recognizing two important yet often overlooked keys to networking: 1) sometimes you just gotta suck it up, and 2) stay open to the unexpected—who knows what kind of connection might be made standing outside the Metro with a bright orange sign around your neck.

“Look at that old dude and his Rolodex go”

Friday, April 17th, 2009

In Working World the book, Sherry writes, “I cannot emphasize enough the value of a carefully annotated record of contacts.” Sherry always encourages job seekers (encourages everyone, in fact) to make an effort not just to collect business cards, but also to note, whether on the back of the card in your old-school Rolodex or in your Outlook contacts list, where and how you met the person and something you talked about with that person, or perhaps an interesting fact you learned about them. Then, when it comes time to call on that person again in the future, you’re armed with information much more powerful than simply, “Uhh, we met once.” Those personal details can go a long way.

This point of Sherry’s was brilliantly illustrated in a subplot of last night’s episode of The Office (the full episode for free on I won’t give away too much if you haven’t already seen it, but in a feud between Michael (at his newly created Michael Scott Paper Company) and his protege Dwight (still at Dunder-Mifflin), Michael uses his carefully annotated and color-coded Rolodex to great effect in trying to pilfer clients from Dwight, prompting Ryan, the young former intern and former corporate hotshot, now washed up with bleached haired, to remark:

Look at that old dude and his Rolodex go.

Hilarious, but with a great point: no matter what level of technology you’re comfortable with (Pam, Michael’s former assistant, follows up to Ryan’s comment with this gem: “I spent a month putting that Rolodex on his Blackberry, which he now uses as a nightlight.”), making notes about the business cards you collect will greatly facilitate using them effectively in the future.

The parallels between networking and food

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

On the heels of many discussions about networking, especially involving my own distaste for attending networking events (namely here and here), my girlfriend Katie, a certified foodie, gchatted me this:

so here is my theory about a possible approach to networking -
it’s the same as jeffrey steingarten’s approach to foods we don’t like -
try it at least 8 times, and the chance is, if you don’t like it, at least you will develop an appreciation for it

A very intriguing thought. She’d mentioned Steingarten’s book, The Man Who Ate Everything, to me before, as well as its underlying theory, so I checked it out. Steingarten has been the food critic at Vogue since 1989 (and is also a regular judge on Iron Chef, for those who frequent the Food Channel), but he also, somewhat notriously for a food critic, has an intense aversion to a whole lot of foods. So, in writing The Man Who Ate Everything, he set out to stem these aversions. Here’s Steingarten’s basic theory on how he got himself to like foods he’d traditionally hated:

Scientists tell us that aversions fade away when we eat moderate doses of the hated foods at moderate intervals, especially if the food is complex and new to us. Exposure works by overcoming our innate neophobia, the omnivore’s fear of new foods that balances the biological urge to explore for them.

Steingarten later notes that while babies might reject a new food on the first few tries, after eight or ten tries, they will accept nearly anything. So the same is (or can be) true for adults. Steingarten managed to overcome nearly all of his food phobias through this approach of trying things eight to ten times. Through this process of acclimatization and de-stigmatization, he came to find he now appreciates and enjoys the foods he once loathed.

So for Katie, by applying this theory to networking (especially attending networking events, during which you are required to be social and chat up people you don’t know), the theory becomes: though you may have an aversion to networking and networking events, if you force yourself to go to them (eight to ten times), you can then overcome your distaste and actually enjoy them. There’s definitely merit in this theory and, upon reflection, I’ve probably unconsciously experienced it to be true (the more networking events I’ve attended, the less I hate them to the point that I even enjoy them). But, a few caveats/discussion points:

1) It’s not just quantity here—quality and experience are important too. Take Steingarten’s battle with anchovies: “My phobia crumpled when I understood that the anchovies living in American pizza parlors bear no relation to the sweet, tender anchovies of Spain and Italy, cured in dry sea salt and a bit of pepper.” He overcame his dislike of anchovies not only by eating a lot of them, but also by becoming more experienced with them, by realizing that the anchovies he’d been eating— and had thus hated—were empirically inferior anchovies (of course you didn’t like them, an anchovy connoisseur would say). The taste of truly good anchovies is a whole lot easier to like than that of bad ones.

Transferred to networking, this idea comes to mean that, the more networking events that you attend: 1) the more you’ll be able to discern between “good” networking events and “bad” ones (i.e., what events hold the most interest for you, and thus which ones you’ll be most engaged at—just as Steingarten didn’t just stuff his face with raw anchovies to overcome his distaste, but rather learned more about the best ways to prepare and eat anchovies, so we too should not just attend every networking event we come across, but rather pick and choose those that are best for us); and 2) the more you’ll understand how you function best at networking events (i.e., always going with a friend or colleague, showing up early when it’s less crowded so it’s easier to meet people, etc.).

2) I’m fascinated by Steingarten’s assertion that we have to balance our innate, omnivorous fear of new foods with our biological urge to explore for them. We both love and fear the novel. It’s interesting to apply this idea to social situations like networking. Perhaps we all have some innate need for human contact and socialization, but at the same time a fear of those people we don’t know. That need-fear ratio is present in all people, but simply at different levels, just like the balance of “urge to explore-fear of the new” with foods is different in all people. I guess the key then becomes recognizing where we as individuals stand on that balance (are we more in need of networking socialization, or more fearful of it?), and then determining how we can best compensate one way or the other.

Elbow patches are awesome, but only if they’re not stained, ctd.

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Lindsey Gerdes, blogging at First Jobs on, agrees with my previous post and says we should cut the whining out of networking:

It’s not only your attire that makes a first impression. It’s your attitude as well. And while sharing your woes might win you some sympathy, it probably won’t land you the potential contacts and opportunities that having a positive and professional demeanor would.

My comments to Lindsey’s post:

Thanks for this post and the link to Working World, Lindsey. I’m with you 100% that an important part of any job search is commiseration. The solitary nature of the job search can be one of its most difficult aspects, so the support and encouragement of fellow job seekers and other contacts can be really necessary to help us persevere (my co-author Sherry has always encouraged job seekers to form a support group to find this kind of camaraderie).

The point of my story about “JS,” though, as you note, is that venting frustration, while needed to help keep us sane, has a time and a place– and that time and place is probably not at networking events. Networking is all about building relationships, trying to organically develop contacts and opportunities. And I think “organic” is a key word here: I’ve found that people want to help you, they want to do for you what others have done for them– but only if it is natural and unforced, genuine and without obligation. If you present yourself as a talented, hard-working, polished young professional who is looking to connect with like-minded people and hopefully in the process gain some advice and help, then you make it easy for potential contacts to want to help you– because it will be not out of obligation but genuine interest and connection. But if you come across as sloppy, whiny, and borderline accusatory (as I felt “JS” did, almost like, “I’ve spent all this time networking with you, now why haven’t you found me a job?!”), then fewer people are going to want to offer the help you’re looking for.

There’s no denying it’s tough out there and, though you may indeed be having a rough go of it, leave the venting out of your networking and keep it confined to your support group and friends.

UPDATE: An added “how to dress yourself well” bonus, especially apropos of my slip yesterday into Project Runway territory: Tim Gunn’s Guide to Laundry and Closet Organization