The guy is sweet and totally guileless; I told him he shouldn't have a problem if that's what he wants to do. But he said he's troubled because he'll have great conversations with "strategic relations," make conversation about the wrong things, then completely forget to mention what he does for a living.
The ideology of networking as a glamorous professional game has given him cold feet. I thought about the conventions and dinners I've had over the last couple of years, remembering the disdain I felt while staring into the face of a talking head with a plastic smile who knew all the proper "casual" things to talk about (sports, the weather, small jabs at my town) before pitching the shit out of me. Out of this monotonous dance, repeated thousands of times by thousands of different faces with little apparent imagination but a savvy for the rhythm, a networking relationship is expected to bloom. Am I actually supposed to feel something for these people, much less be willing to help them out sometime?
I began to consider what lives at the core of the networking relationship, a tool so vital to conducting business. Many articles have been written about the benefits of maintaining connections. One in particular, called "It's Not Who You Know, But Who You Get to Know" (2002), is comprised of interviews in which people discuss professional networking organizations, among other things, including the benefits of remaining in the loop after college:
But what's at the core of networking? Why is it such a big deal? One of the biggest beefs I had early on in my career was with the artificial relationship-building that goes on in companies. It's sterile, contrived and worked down to a science. As things stand, I don't consider myself much of a socializer; I spent all of college working and developed pockets of relationships with people I genuinely liked, people who wouldn't give me plastic smiles and with whom I shared a sense of mutual respect or regard. But many would allege this is not how it works; this is doing it wrong.
The ability to stay connected with colleagues, to seek and give counsel, to share information, news and opportunities, to give and obtain career and employment information are but a small part of the benefits you receive.
-Wayne Phillips, President of the Oakland/SF Bay Area
Chapter of the National Forum for Black Public
I'm not discounting the merits of developing strategic alliances; they're key to any career. But we need to remember why networking is so powerful a force in the first place: people aren't wholly rational. We're emotional creatures who are keenly aware of chemistry. How often are accounts won, not because of a great pitch, but because somebody is a "good fit" for the company or job?
With that in mind, I think it's critical to be less concerned with knowing the "proper talk." Instead, let's get more invested in being sincere, so the connection is a pleasure to maintain instead of a royal energy-sapping pain in the ass. Business is comprised of people seeking to make beneficial connections - and when I say beneficial I don't merely mean career-wise. We want to feel that extra something: the connection with somebody that suggests we're really friends, we get each other, and maybe you want to help me, not because I knew what to say about sports or make the right jokes, but because you can see my merits as a person and a professional.
We experience too little genuineness from day to day, especially while running the career track for the majority of our days. You stick out when you truly engage somebody and make a real connection, and that's far more meaningful than the hundreds of business cards stacking up in my desk, representing chipper hollow faces about whose characters I truly know nothing.