I’ve been wanting to write this blog post for a while. I’ve touched on networking before, but only tangentially as it related to side hustling. I chose a journal format because a little less formality works better. So, even though I preach about the importance of networking all the time, here’s the absolute truth:
I friggin’ hate networking.
Fun fact about me: I currently work in a business school, where they literally teach classes on networking. One of tenets we preach is not to think of it as using people for personal gain. Instead, it’s ‘fostering mutually beneficial relationships’. Personally, the problem is that in order to be mutually beneficial, I myself need to bring something to the table. Which, most of the time… I feel as though I don’t. I’m only asking for favors, handouts, pity, and charity. On the whole, I do not like asking for help.
Asking for help inherently feels like acknowledging that things are outside of my control and drudges up feelings of helplessness. I feel like I’m at the mercy of someone else’s goodwill, and I begin to question how much they actually like me, if I’m even worth helping out in their eyes. If people do help me out in some way, then I hate feeling indebted to someone and that I’ve been a burden they could have otherwise lived without.
(…. there may be some underlying self-esteem issues, here.)
My point is: I get it. Networking can be awful. Plus, that doesn’t even consider the social anxiety that stems from talking to strangers (which, at one point in my life, I might have preferred to walk over a floor full of Legos rather than talk to strangers).
That doesn’t make it any less necessary.
Anecdote #1: my first big-girl job
Five years and some change ago, I’d just graduated with my ostensibly useless degree (Never going to regret it, though. Vive Lingua Latina!) I didn’t want to go into teaching, and had zero idea what I wanted other than ‘a salary’. I job-hunted while living with my parents, applying for jobs and attending career fairs during the day in between bouts of snuggling with the family basset hound and crying.
One consistent sound-bite I came across while seeking advice was the importance of networking. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, yada yada…” Unfair as that seemed, I decided to give it a half-hearted go. I found a free, young professionals happy hour event in my city on Meetup.com; if I had to chat up strangers, at least I could do it with some liquid courage in hand.
The first few I went to were a dud (insofar as no one immediately offered me a full-time, salaried job with amazing benefits over a pint), but the third one was pay-dirt. There was a career fair the day after the happy hour that I’d planned on going to. One company was recruiting for a position I was particularly interested in, and I’d done what research and preparation I could.
Well, cue random stranger lady with amazing hair, hereafter ‘K’, coming up to chit-chat at the happy hour. We went through the perfunctory, “What do you do?” and “Where do you work?” Come to find out, K worked at the very company I was interested in and planning to hit up at the career fair the next day. Bingo.
Since I’m a bit crunchy, I took it as a sign from the universe that this was meant to be. I proceeded to have (what I now know as) an impromptu informational interview with her, learned as much about the company as I could, and asked if I could drop her name at the career fair the next day. She graciously agreed (though, understandably, she asked that I say I met her at a party rather than a professional networking event, since she didn’t want it to seem as though she were job-searching herself).
The next day, I went to the career fair and went straight for the company table and recruiter. I’m sure I’m not as smooth as I’m remembering, but I mentioned how I had learned about the company from my friend K and how it seemed like the perfect fit. Also important: I (accidentally) made a personal connection with the recruiter since we were both dormitory Resident Advisors in college. She noted that and the fact that I knew K on my resume; I thanked her for her time and scurried off to have an anxiety attack.
It took like two months, but I was invited for an interview. Then, a second-round interview with the woman who was leaving the position and the man who would be my supervisor. They were receptive to the fact that I knew K and had learned about the company through her. They gave me some ‘homework’, which I quadruple-checked and submitted early. A half-hour later, they offered me the job.
Altogether, I employed (heh) quite a few magic tricks to land the job (not least of which was asking the spirits of my ancestors for help because my psychic told me to), but networking is what got my foot in the door. It also worked to my favor that it was a small company (<100 administrative staff), and that K was well-respected within the organization.
Yes, I bought K a drink after I started working there full time. And, yes, I’m still friends with K today, even though both of us have moved on to different companies.
Anecdote #2: networking and the present-day hustle
I’ve mentioned plenty of times that I was a trivia hostess for 2.5 years. It was a moonlighting gig supplemental to my big-girl job above. However, since I believe I was Alex Trebek in a former life, and the trivia company I was working for was on a Manifest Destiny warpath to bring pub trivia to every corner of the country and beyond, I was super interested in getting as involved as possible. Thus, I didn’t only host trivia shows, I also trained new hosts, wrote question sets, wrote articles for their blog, worked events in other regions (i.e., helping out with a Chicago event even though I’m in Detroit area), and went to every single host meetup.
I’m sure I’d still be on the same trajectory today if not for that whole quarter-life crisis and quitting life to work on a cruise ship episode.
Present-day-post-#shiplife, even though my professional interests have changed, I don’t regret my public displays of yuppie-ness as it related to trivia.
It’s actually helped me.
(Mini anecdote within the larger anecdote: my friend who is the general manager at the bar I’m working at? Met her through trivia-ing. She was also one of my professional references for the following:)
You might remember me writing/tweeting three months ago that I suddenly went from working at home and side-hustling full-time to a full-time office job (i.e., my current role in the business school). It’s a temporary position, but it’s at a large university that is damn near impossible to get into otherwise (and was one of my top professional interests even when I was job-hunting the first time around after college). Even the temp gigs are difficult to nab – it took me six months of forwarding my resume to the open assignments before I landed my present role. And the reason I did land it?
Because the man who was leaving the position was a trivia host I knew.
Even though the position itself is temporary, I’ve already seen a difference in the number of interviews I’m invited to. Being able to put the business school and university name on my resume has given it a boost, and I have faith that this will only help me on the path forward.
Now, I realize that those two anecdotes come across as me just getting lucky, but… that’s kind of my point. You’re not a wizard, you can’t tell the future or what will come out of something. What you don’t see illustrated above is the total time I’ve spent and hundreds of people I’ve met that amounted to nothing beyond a pleasant social interaction. Treat everyone and every situation you meet as a chance to network and foster professional relationships. Don’t burn bridges. Be proactive and reach out to people because you never know when the world will prove that it is small and getting smaller by the day.
Or, if nothing else: just don’t be an asshole. Good things might happen.
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