I’ve had to look for work a lot.
So often, it’s sometimes felt like looking for work was my career.
If you look at my resume, you’ll see a whole lot of short-term freelancing and consulting gigs.
Which means, I’ve rarely had the luxury of feeling any security.
And it also means I’ve had to get over my fear of networking and learn to do it.
Like many things I’ve been afraid of, I discovered it wasn’t so bad. I could even learn something from it.
And sometimes, networking has led me to people and directions I’d never have uncovered otherwise (which is obviously the whole point).
When I graduated college and tried to break into advertising, conventional wisdom said you could find a job by answering ads, but the odds were against you.
The best way—the “hidden job market”—was through networking. In other words, talking to people, and getting them to introduce you to someone else.
Overcoming My Networking Fears
I thought, “Oh, I could never do that. I’ll never find work. I’ll have to keep answering ads forever.”
I imagined the people who were good at “networking” were like used car salesmen, smiling and using your first name too much, or like the popular kids in school who just had charisma.
“Networking” made me think of entering a large room full of cocktail party chatter and forcing myself on people who didn’t want to talk to me.
When I first started trying, I did absolutely the wrong thing—“Please help me, I’m trying to find a job.”
It was as effective as saying to a young single guy, “Please date me, I’m trying to find a husband.”
Over time and by asking for advice about networking itself, I learned something that common sense should’ve told me.
The way to connect with people is not by advertising your need and desperation, but to build connections with them.
What do they do? What, if anything, were they looking for?
It actually felt good to help someone else—what a revelation!
Networking forced me to listen, which wasn’t a natural skill for me, especially when I was looking for work and panicking.
It’s About the Give and Take
I learned that sometimes the people I met at a networking function were just as intimidated by a roomful of strangers as I was.
I learned that when I introduced myself, especially to someone standing alone, I might be doing them a favor.
There were times when people were cold or obviously not friendly, and I learned not to take it personally.
But now, when I walk into a function that’s billed as a networking or mingling activity, I go on the assumption that people will be friendly. I assume that my saying hello first will be welcome.
I’ll never be a backslapping politician type, or sell cars with a single unctuous smile. But that’s not what networking’s about, at least not the way I define it.
It’s the effort to make a genuine connection with someone and maybe even help them (is that a wacky idea, or what?).
Because you never know when someone will see something in you and say, “Hey, I have an idea for you!” and point you in a whole new direction.
In fact, that’s how I got into content strategy. Quite simply, I wouldn’t have known my current field existed if I hadn’t networked, talked to people, and asked lots of questions.
Networking is Our Modern Reality
In an uncertain economy, where the concept of “job security” is as outdated as a Rolodex full of index cards (ask your mom), the only security we really have is our ability to make connections with other people.
We have to show what we can do to solve someone else’s problem.
I can’t control the economy, the market or even other people’s perceptions.
But at least it’s no longer true that the only thing it’s in my power to do is sit back and wait until someone notices me—and that feels almost as good as health insurance and a matching 401k.