I have never considered myself to be much of a networker. Parents and guidance counselors and other such sages told me over and over how important networking is, but it took me a long time to get comfortable with the idea. In high school and my early navel-gazing over-philosophized college years I thought of networking as dirty, cheating, smacking of cronyism, nepotism, favoritism and a dozen other -isms that have no place in the meritocracy I thought we all should be living in. I wanted no part of it.
That changed in my late-college, grad school period when I accepted that we don’t in fact live in a pure ideal meritocracy, that the fickle finger of fate has a lot more influence over our lives than we might like to believe, and that networking is a way to nudge that finger a little in the direction we want it to go. But just accepting that networking was useful and important didn’t make me good at it, and I was terrible. I was in the job-hunt phase then, and a large part of the problem was that I confused “job applicant” with “job supplicant”. I could not bring myself to believe that I, a lowly job-seeker, could possibly have anything an employer might want, so I went to interviews with little more than sad puppy eyes and a begging bowl. (It is only now that I have done some hiring myself that I fully understand what a rare and precious commodity good employees are.) That unfortunate situation persisted until I interviewed for a job that required an attribute that even at my most self-deprecating I could not deny possessing: i rite gud.
My current job is essentially all about networking. Sure, there’s some event planning and some light number crunching and some of that juicy writing stuff, but you don’t get anything to put in the event agenda or the spreadsheet or the report (or get good jobs later) without going out and meeting people and talking to them. They hammered this into us in training, first in A-100 and then in pol/econ tradecraft, and I was scared. They threw a lot of frightening words around like “managing contacts” and “interagency coordination” and “corridor reputation” that made the whole thing sound very awkward and painful, and since I was already pretty sure I was a networking failure I just knew I was doomed.
Good news y’all: I’m not doomed. I’m still pretty lousy at cocktail party chit-chat, but it turns out this networking thing can be kind of fun. Yesterday in a meeting I mentioned a pet project I’ve wanted to get started on, and the other guy said “hey, that’s a great idea, and I want to help!” With that encouragement I sent an email around to some other folks whose help I might need, and they were all excited too! So, having “managed” a “contact” and “coordinated” with the “interagency” with any luck we’ll make something happen, not in order to puff up my “corridor reputation” but because I think it would be great if Guinea had an American Chamber of Commerce and a bunch of other people think so too.
Networking: not so horrible after all.