I like networking and I really believe in the power of it because you’ll learn as you get older and wiser that what you know is important but who you know can be a real advantage. However, I do not like events that are specifically set up for the sole purpose of networking especially for business professionals, y’know those ones that use “The City” as a selling point because, well, most people of course aspire to work in the City, up to the point of selling their soul if it came to it. #justabitofshade
Back in 2012 and being a newbie in a top 4 Professional Services Firm in the City of London at age 21, obviously filled with brand new excitement of possibilities and wanting to make a good impression by doing and being as I was told, I absolutely wore myself out attending all sorts of networking events at work and outside of work. At first, it was easy breezy because all I needed to do was say where I worked and what I did and people would start asking questions and wanting to know more. I’m a talker and I’m quite good at saying what people like to hear if I so choose.
After about a year of work, the novelty of being a “Big Girl in the City of London” began to wear off as other aspects of real life started to set me in motion in a less airy-fairy direction. The networking events suddenly began to feel like a chore and I began to avoid them every chance I got – bearing in mind that at this point I was probably on like every mailing list lol!
As I started to ponder why I really wasn’t feeling them anymore, it became clear as day:
- My reason(s) for going to these events: At first, I wanted to meet like-minded people that I could potentially build relationships with. That meant that I’d be usually more interested in speaking to people that worked in work fields similar to mine. That worked until I began to dislike my job and had no desire to talk to others that worked in that field. It was like, we suddenly had dissimilar interests and it became a pain to have to pretend like we were on the same page all in the name of “being with the in-crowd”.
- Most of these events are superficial beyond my tolerance levels: Everyone loves to talk a good game especially where no one really knows who they are. So you meet someone at a networking event, they reel off the name of the top bank they work for then you listen to them use as many words as they can muster to over-exaggerate their role in said bank, all the while searching your facial expressions to see if you’re impressed. Unfortunately, I was rarely impressed. In fact, I was only impressed when people spoke of their roles and how it not only impacts their company and themselves but also the community around them. Good for them nevertheless but it became really washed out for me and I never really left feeling like I really got to know the new people I had met.
- My job, alone, is NOT my identity: A pet peeve for me at networking events is kinda how people just jumped straight into it, “So what do you do?” It’s not an odd question but for me, it always signified that the person was trying to size me up as to whether I would be worth their time based on what I do. If you say something that’s not of interest to them, their eyes almost literally start darting across the room like “Mmm this is not quite what I’m looking for. Who shall I go to next?” and for me, people like that miss the point totally. Even if I my day job isn’t your interest, what about the rest of me and the other aspects of my life I could possibly bond with you on like my hobbies or other interests and achievements that make me all-rounded? So how I would I suggest starting a conversation at a networking event?
“Hi, how are you? What’s your name? Nice to meet you, my name is (insert name).”
“So what interests brought you to this event?”
“Nice, so does that mean you work in that sector or…?”
It’s just a lot more classy, in my opinions. I mean, everyone has their preferred communication style but you can always apply emotional intelligence and discern who may or may not prefer a direct approach. People ultimately want to feel like you’re interested in them, not just what they do for a living.
- I can actually choose to be selective about which events I go for: This is certainly more an issue with me as opposed to the networking events themselves because they no doubt serve a purpose for those who require the service of that purpose. Now, working on my own business and knowing a lot more about me as a person has brought me much needed focus I perhaps didn’t have before. Now, I can choose the events I go for with more focus as is aligned with my own goals. None of the above has necessarily changed in terms of the superficial nature or the fact that people will assume my job is my identity but I’m willing to stomach a few conversations if it serves my own agenda. I will say though that one such event I attended recently wasn’t bad: A guy told me about his IT-related day job but then also mentioned what he does on the side which is custom made men’s shoes company and his other hobbies. It was much nicer to deal with an all-rounded individual. At least, even if I have no IT-needs, I know someone who has a passion and business of men’s customised shoes, should I be on the prowl for a gift or something.
And that is why I don’t really like networking events 🙂
Just in a mini-rant mode,