Why networking is bullshit (sometimes)
If you're the type to dread the thought of going up to someone and strike up conversation, you're probably also the type to hate networking.It's because you want to look beyond the sterile “give and take” archetypal relationship that tends to form when people think about networking. You're probably the type who likes building deep, meaningful connections with other people, and even just the idea of going out there to make as many touchpoints as possible wears you out.
And you may be onto something.
There are definitely reasons to network with other people, but going out to meet people just because it's what you're “supposed to do” is the wrong way to go about it.
It's not just about what they can offer you
You have to have a genuine care, passion and interest in what the other person has to say—and it goes both ways, no matter whether you're the one who reached out or the one responding. That's why networking can sometimes be bullshit, because unless the two people involved are both ready and willing to take part in engaging with that relationship, it's just a shallow connection.
You're not always going to click with everyone
I don't care if you're Mother Teresa herself—there's always going to be people who don't like you. And you should learn to be okay with that if you aren't already.
Networking well is about making the right connections, and not all connections are right. Trying to force something that's not there will only needlessly strain your relationship with that person (which may hurt your other opportunities with shared connections).
Know when it's a lost cause and move on with it. Maybe you can revisit them later on after they've had a Snickers, or something.
Tailor your approach
Every person is different, so you need to approach each connection differently.
Some people may respond only when you're blunt or straightforward with what you want. Others require a bit more nurturing, like taking them out to coffee, before they decide to invest any more time fraternizing with you.
Still others won't even humor you with a coffee unless you have a mutual connection introduce you.
Whatever the case, cater to them if you're the one reaching out. Once you establish a working relationship and show them that you're worth knowing, then you can compromise on when to meet up, how best to connect, and so on.
Learn and respect boundaries
You wanna be a go-getter—I can respect that. But if you're super pushy in trying to get something out of a connection when it's clear they either can't or don't want to help you out, you're gonna have a bad time.
Some people won't be straightforward in letting you know whether they're interested in connecting or not (for fear of coming off as impolite), so you may need to focus a little harder than you normally would to pick up on those subtle social cues.
Focus on the quality of your connections, not the number
It's not like you should head into a networking event with the idea of “making connections” the way you would collect tickets at the arcade. Having one thoughtful, invoking conversation with one potential mentor or employer or peer is worth its weight in gold. Having a dozen shallow conversations is not.
If you want to be one of those well-connected people who just seems to know, well, everyone, that follows your efforts to create connections and upkeep them.
Networking in the stereotypical, greasy, schmoozy way is totally out. It's easy to come off as inauthentic if you're trying to do it the “old school” way, which can sometimes be a little selfish and self-absorbed. Connecting with others is a much more nuanced process, so it's time to change the way you think about how you approach it.
Make sure you're putting your best self forward, offer a reason for someone to want to know you, and put in a little more effort in the relationships that really matter to you. It's totally worth your time if you do it right, but otherwise you may as well piss in the ocean.
Main image by Shengpengpeng Cai.