Networking appears as stiff cliches of interactions where bland business cards are exchanged along with disingenuous smiles. Small talk tends to drain all parties involved when the topics of conversation don’t impact worthy reactions. Fake chuckles after awkward statements can exhaust anyone’s emotional resources. Worst of all, in my opinion, is when someone performs how they believe a professional should. Performing restricts individuals 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 enjoyable when it’s focused on finding communities where contributing your gifts, talents, and skills are valued while also being supported for who you are. Actively seeking people, organizations, and institutions that align 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 personal pursuits. I’ve been able to grab coffee, drinks, and lunch with people that I’m genuinely interested in. And I’ve found that people 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 pursued companies, organizations, and individuals who were deemed as fancy and high status, which would arbitrarily validate my professionalism. I wasn’t as interested in their missions/pursuits as much as I was trying to impress and get paid. Long story short, those relationships fizzled out immediately, 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 thoroughly exhausting myself, I sought out conversations with people who I thought were doing cool things while not expecting anything more than a discussion.
And that is precisely what I got, great conversations with great people. No, these conversations didn’t immediately lead to jobs, but neither were the fake ones. I engaged with a network of people that were generous enough to share their time and insights which allowed me to cultivate confidence in my professional journey further. Eventually, some job offers came about, but it wasn’t the time and place for me to accept. Most importantly, my relationships with these individuals and organizations weren’t impacted by if they offered the job or not, these people contributed to my confidence as a professional and much more valuable than money!
Not to be cliche, but just be yourself. That might mean going to a career fair with 100 employers and 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 demonstrating your interests by asking questions about the nuanced details of their experience helps a great deal. Nardwuar is my biggest inspiration and expressed his enthusiasm for his interviewees by bringing them nuanced gifts specific to their individuality. The best gift sometimes is a genuine question about a detail that required some research which may kick start a great conversation where both parties leave satisfied and willing to reconnect.