Networking can appear as stiff, cliché interactions where bland business cards are exchanged along with disingenuous smiles. Small talk can drain all parties involved when topics of conversation don’t impact worthy reactions. Fake chuckles after awkward statements can exhaust anyone’s emotional resources for potentially having a good time. And worst of all, in my opinion, when someone is performing how they believe a professional should perform, they intentionally restrict themselves from genuine expression. I’ve done it, I feel when it’s being done to me and I don’t like it.
However, networking is extremely fun when the focus is on finding communities where you can contribute your gifts, talents and skills while also being supported for who you are. Actively seeking people/organizations/institutions that are aligned with your values is empowering because it allows you to enter into networks that assist in your professional (and even personal) development by offering insights, inspiration and eventually…experience.
By seeking out these communities, I’ve developed confidence in my professional (and even personal) pursuits. I’ve been able to grab coffees, drinks and lunch with people that I’m genuinely interested in and I’ve found that people can feel when you express genuine interests, allowing them to be more willing to take time out of their day for a conversation.
The point I really want to drive here is GENUINE INTEREST. In the past, I have pursued companies, organizations and individuals who were deemed as fancy and high status which would arbitrarily validate my professionalism. However, I wasn’t as interested in their missions/pursuits as much as I was trying to impress them, falsely prove something to myself and get paid. Long story short, those relationships would fizzle out immediately (probably because they sensed the disingenuousness of my interests) and left me broke, bored and riddled with self-doubt. “Maybe I didn’t do this right, maybe I didn’t do that right…” would perpetually loop in my mind after not getting my desired result. After completely exhausting myself, I began to seek conversations with people who I just thought were doing cool things while I wasn’t expecting anything more than a conversation.
And that is exactly what I got: great conversations with great people. No, these conversations didn’t immediately lead to jobs, but neither did the fake ones. I began engaging with a network of people that were generous enough to share their time and insights with me which allowed me to further cultivate confidence in my professional journey. Eventually, some job offers came about, but it wasn’t the time and place for me to accept; however, my relationships with these individuals and organizations weren’t impacted by if they offered me the job or not; these people contributed to my confidence as a professional and that is way more valuable than money (that will come)!
Not to be cliché, but be yourself. That might mean going to a career fair with 100 employers but only seeking that one person/company/organization that is aligned with your desired mission. If you’re genuinely interested, research won’t feel like research and you can demonstrate your interests by asking questions about the nuanced details of their experience. Nardwuar is my biggest inspiration when demonstrating his enthusiasm for his interviewees by bringing them nuanced gifts specific to their individuality that not many people may know. The best gift sometimes can be a genuine question about a detail that required some research and that kick starts a great conversation where both parties leave satisfied and willing to reconnect.
- If you’re genuinely interested, do your research and bring interesting questions (not impressive questions, but something you’re genuinely interested in).
- It’s not a popularity contest. Find the few that genuinely interest you. Before you know it, you’ll be spending way too much money on coffee and wasting both parties’ time.
- Don’t be outcome dependent. The conversations should be rewarding enough. It may not lead to a job, but that’s not what it’s about. Focus on connecting with a community and cultivating confidence in your professionalism.