Don’t tell anyone, but I hate networking. Yes, I know that I work as a career counsellor and I’m supposed to be all “networking is the way to success” but I personally don’t like doing it.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a people person but I have residual shyness left over from my childhood and teenage years as a four-eyed, braces- and acne-endowed bookworm. Walking into a room full of strangers and feeling as if I have to confidently deliver a rehearsed “blurb” that sells my attributes to as many people as possible makes me feel nauseous. And, even if I did manage to blurt it out, what if there was spinach in my teeth or something? I’d rather pitch myself down an elevator shaft than actually recite the oft-touted-as-the-way-to-career-success “elevator pitch.” And, I’m more than a little certain that I’m not alone.
Despite my aversion to networking, I do understand and agree with the notion that one path to satisfying work — or any work at all — is through connecting with others in both informal and professional situations, rather than exclusively through job postings. And, since most employers tend not to advertise jobs if they can avoid it (expensive and time-consuming), we are much more able to offer and consider opportunities if we are actively engaging in conversations and building relationships on a regular basis around topics of mutual interest.
But, knowing that networking is helpful and actually wanting to do it are two different things. Why is it that I can comfortably talk for one and a half hours to a room with 700 people in it but I get clammy just thinking about “working a room” full of 30 potential contacts?
Cathy Keates, Career Counsellor and former Associate Director of Career Services at York University, delves into a possible answer. In her book Not for Sale! Why We Need a New Job Search Mindset, Cathy argues that in being traditionally encouraged to think of ourselves in the job search process as “products” that need promotion and selling, we turn career communication into sales pitches — something that is uncomfortable, if not downright unfathomable, for many people.
Many people equate networking with "schmoozing" and for some of us, schmoozing comes more naturally than for others. Personally, every time I think about networking, I flash back to grade two when I spent what felt like hours standing on my various neighbours’ front steps, shifting from one foot to the other, eyes downcast, stomach in knots, trying to sell Girl Guide cookies. Networking certainly feels like sales to me — and sales are not my thing. But does networking really mean schmoozing? Or, has the good name of job search (and networking by extension) been sullied by the sales slant perpetrated upon it by career practitioners, recruiters, best-selling motivational speakers and authors?
Cathy acknowledges that I am not alone in my dread and suggests thinking about job search differently, using something she coins, The Integrity Mindset. She proposes that the entire process of job search could be a lot more comfortable and rewarding if we chose not to adopt the sales mindset and instead, considered three pillars of a new job search mindset: ethics, dignity and authenticity.
It’s a radical yet completely common-sense idea, and career counsellors might need to be the first ones in line to learn this new way of thinking about job search. After all, if you’ve ever visited a career centre, you have probably realized that, as a rule, we tend to be well entrenched in propagating the sales metaphor. Our advice and literature is littered with phrases that come from that model such as “your marketing documents” and “selling your skills” and even, “your 30-second infomercial.” No wonder many students would rather just hit the ‘refresh’ button on GreatGigs.com over and over and over…
So, speaking as both a victim and perpetrator of this sales mindset, let me recap. Instead of feeling like networking and job search are competitive sales situations where I have to schmooze, memorize and deliver an “elevator pitch,” I can instead choose to navigate through these situations in a way that is authentic for me. Instead of feeling pressured to “work a room,” I can focus on enjoying as little as one naturally-occurring conversation that is meaningful to me and the person with which I’m having it. Hunh. Suddenly, networking feels a lot more comfortable and achievable for me — and for the students with whom I work.
So, I’m ready to boldly try this au naturel-networking (my term, not Cathy’s) and to recommend it to others. I can handle this idea of job search done the authentic, non-salesy way. But, I have one question before I head into the fray: Is there any spinach in my teeth? jp
Christine Fader is a Career Counsellor at Queen's University and the author of Career Cupid: Your Guide to Landing and Loving Your Dream Job.