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How to Get Ahead: Whatever It Takes, Learn to Network


Ed. note: Don’t worry, I’m not working on my vacation. I wrote this ages ago for Accountingfly’s old blog and we’re re-running here.

Let’s get something straight: I hate networking. I suck at small talk. The idea of “working a room” makes me wanna hurl. The word “schmoozing” disgusts me and you will never hear me utter it. The whole concept of being in a large room filled with people for the expressed purpose of meeting other people makes me incredibly uncomfortable. If you are my friend and we are together, we will have distress signals for bad conversations, and you better be paying attention at all times. If you know someone and don’t bother to introduce me, I will kick you in the shins. Have I mentioned that I hate networking?

Early in my career, I refused to network and resented people who made it look easy. I would try to loosen up with a drink or two, but in those days, I really liked to overdo it and that turned into drunk blathering rather than meaningful conversation. That’s not good for anybody.

My attitude about networking started to change when I was thrown into situations where I had to meet people. Early into my blogging career, I ended up at conferences where I’d been tasked to meet potential advertisers. This is hard! Walking up to a perfect stranger to strike up a conversation is awkward. But then I thought, that’s what these people are doing, waiting to be talked to! Naturally, I was very bad at this at first, but like anything, the more people I talked to, the easier it became. After a couple of years, I discovered that I didn’t have to go out of my way to talk anyone if I didn’t want to; I always ended up meeting new people anyway.

These days, I look forward to events. Don’t get me wrong, I still hate networking, but in a bizarre twist, I enjoy it, too. I think it’s the serendipity of it. Like, I have no idea who I’m going to meet, and that’s kinda exciting. Sometimes I meet cool people and other times I meet boring people, but the latter are increasingly rare.

The other thing I learned is that if I’m at an event and I don’t meet anyone new or interesting, it’s not a big deal. I think lots of people put tons of pressure on themselves to pick up X number of business cards or some other arbitrary measure. Relax! Have a drink, but not more than two. Laugh at someone’s bad joke. Tell a bad joke. People will laugh! If you don’t know any, learn some. Get better at small talk. Lots of times it can lead to medium talk. Be honest and awkward without being creepy. Creepy is never good.

For example, the easiest way to break the ice with someone is to flat out tell them, “I’m bad at networking,” or “I hate these things,” chances are, they’ll probably tell you that they are too and then you’ll be bad at networking together! Except you just met someone new, dummy, and now you’re a little better at networking.

I guess what I’m saying is, just try, you’ll figure it out somehow. Whatever works.