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Idealog—in the ideas business

Networking – a necessary evil?

How long before networking becomes a university subject?

While attending one of the many glamorous and fabulous events I often am invited to at my local pub, such as Table Tennis Thursday, I was asked if I was on LinkedIn.

No – stop right there, don’t bother trying to look me up to admire my varied skillz and many connections – I’m not. I realise LinkedIn is very ‘in’ right now but so were hammer pants once upon a time. I think I made the right decision in regards to those and for the moment, I’m fine without LinkedIn also. Until I need a new job, of course, whereupon I shall become a believer and treat LinkedIn as though it is the messiah and the second coming is nigh.

I am not much of a networker – online or in real life. I talk to people because I like them or I find them attractive. I try to avoid the ones I don’t like, regardless of the connections they may have, unless they’re related to the Whittaker’s chocolate family. And I’m a firm believer in only handing over my business card for bar competitions.

But I was recently bribed into going to a networking event. And when I say bribed, I mean my host said, ‘Come drink wine’. I love free wine! Even more when it’s not out of a box.  However, I was slightly concerned that I’d wind up in the corner clutching my gratis grape juice trying to quietly slurp up enough Dutch courage to talk to people.

Fortunately, it transpired that the other attendees had no qualms about walking up to strangers, introducing themselves and making small talk. I am in awe of such confidence. And they were mostly easy to talk to – although, given the free wine, maybe they were all just squiffy?  They were also much better at coherently describing what they do for a living.

Mental note to self – when asked what I do, do not say, ‘I correct spelling mistakes’. A better description is required – maybe one where I talk myself up, such as, ‘I prevent my fellow employees from embarrassing themselves in the written form on a daily basis. I am the last bastion of hope.’

Upon leaving the event I realised that I’d amassed a wallet full of business cards. I didn’t give away any of my own – like I said, I need them for the bar competitions. I have no idea of what to do with these cards. Build card houses? Start rubbish bin fires? Pass myself off as someone else? I guess I could actually, you know, use them.  It does seem like an outlandish idea when I could just write shopping lists on the back, though. Or use them as ballast to stop café tables from wobbling.

Given the popularity of networking I fully expect it to soon become a university subject, if it hasn’t already.

Networking 101: How to slip your business card into someone’s hand in a casual and relaxed manner and not come across as a stalker with a penchant for coloured cardboard and fancy but empty titles.


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Comments

I always interpreted “networking” as a more general case “getting to know people”, and “work-related networking” as the distasteful and somewhat repulsive activity you describe here.

It sounds to me like you have generic networking mastered, but work-related networking delegated to its dirty little corner where it belongs. This is, of course, the only way I could actually like you, so well done!

LEAVE PENELOPE ALONE!

When I'm asked what I do, I tend to say where I work and then exclaim, 'totally random huh? Yeah NO idea how that happened' and then laugh very uncomfortably.

I think this is not a good sign. I don't network. I hate that word, actually. It sounds like a trap, in which you get bound up forever in the complex world of your place of employment and you can NEVER get out, because now everyone knows who you are and what you are (supposed to be) doing and so you'll either have to stay forever or join the circus.

</twocentsworth>

Heh - I've often found a lot of 'networking' events to be painful, awkward affairs. There is, however, a lot to be said for having a wide and varied range of people one knows, and can help or call on.

Malcolm Gladwell, much as I may have taken issue with some of his predictions and opinions over the years, talks about 'connectors' - people who don't 'network' in the traditional sense, and certainly don't do so for purely transactional or short-term purposes, but who're really valuable to us all. (link http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/222707)

Indeed, I think 'networking' itself is dying out in its current form. More and more people are using platforms such as Twitter or Google+, which allow the same or better interaction. When going to events now, I am more likely to know and remember someone's Twitter handle than their real name!

And as to LinkedIn? Well, it's primarily used by business types and groups. I've found it incredibly useful as, basically, my CV, I keep it up to date, given potential employers the link thereto, and occasionally am able to get into really interesting conversations with some really interesting, really senior people the world over. Hardly a bad thing! Also, and this is purely anecdotal, of course, but I find that if I'm curious about someone and Google them, I expect to find a LinkedIn profile, so that I can see what their expertise in an area (generally one about which they're writing, for example) is :) If I can't find out anything about them, I'm far less likely to give creedance to their views, follow them on Twitter, blah blah blah.

</twocentsworth>

Hi Penelope, I have to admit, I expected something completely different from your article maybe more info and less sarcasm? Nevertheless, it was entertaining.

I have been called a “natural networker” ever since I was at University and even though I actually don't like networking events and it takes me a lot of courage and discipline to meet new people, I just do it because it is so important.

Since then I have discovered the term “connector” as described by aimee above and I believe it fits a lot better to how I behave.

It doesn't matter if networking happens online or offline (ideally a combination of both) but you need to have the right attitude to be effective and to enjoy it. You need to be open minded and genuinely be interested in other people as people always like talking about themselves, so good networkers and connectors listen and don't try to sell their product or service at every occasion.
On the topic of LinkedIn, one of the companies I work with is looking to raise investment overseas and the CEO just spent a month in the Bay Area. He didn't have any business cards (long story) and was only asked once for a card but it all happened via linkedin. Maybe this wave has to reach NZ first?

I too used to be a hermit and wear a tinfoil hat.

But on a serious note, it is a confidence thing, and there are networking classes out there (even a Bachelor of Communications if your really keen).

As for a reason for giving out your business cards, think of poor sods like me. I go to these events meet hundreds of fantastic people and not remember a single name. So giving out a card simply changes your perceived name in my mind, from “Grammar Nazi with frizzy hair” to “Penelope Whitson”.

As for what to do with cards you don't want. Leave them in random places. Its great fun.

Stewart, isn't leaving cards in random places just another way of saying you litter?

I am not important enough to have business cards. Which leaves me in the much harder position of having to actually make an impression on new contacts - good thing I have salty language and a nice rack! ;)

I can testify from personal experience that Penelope looks amazing in a tinfoil hat.

I normally tell people what I do. It normally stops them from talking to me, like at a funeral for my uncle when all these people came up to my brother and me.
They advised they knew our father and therefore had a right to come and see us standing in the corner avoiding eye contact with all. Inevitably they said “What do you do?” and I wish I had taken a lesson from a speaker I saw and responded “I play computer games, watch TV, and am obssessed with cars, sport, and painting miniatures”.

Of course I hadn't been to this speech yet so we both told them where we worked. My brother got bombarded with questions of how interesting his job must be. I got “Oh, right. Well nice to see you both we must get going”. From the third person on, we decided I should go first. It was shorter and less awkward.

I have enough awesome friends in my opinion. If I end up with some bonus people, it will be because my awesome friends introduce me and I trust their judgement.

Networking is a work thing for me and as much as I know people hate doing it, it's important. I agree with the comment from Morgan about it being a trap. However I've seen far too many instances that it isn't about what you know but who you know, a game which has proved positive for me in my career so far… well that and I'm bloody good at my job.

Also business cards just remind me of American Psycho.


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