on networking

November 9, 2010

I have been asked to write, a bit, on networking. 
A few noteworthy definitions: 

1. A yuppie euphemism for kissing ass in order to get a job or obtain a raise or promotion.
Regardless of your skills, intelligence, or education, if you are not good at networking you will always earn minimum wage and live in a trailer park.
2. Bro-speak term for partying. "Networking" gives fratboys an easy out to help overcome the massive cognitive dissonance associated with their lifestyles should it be brought into question. Namely, the idea that they will one day get a good-paying, stable job despite the unfortunate reality of their complete lack of employable skills. 
3. A method for unskilled people to get hired for jobs over people who are skilled. Despite being an incompetent worker, I'm employed because I'm great at networking! 

But in all seriousness, when I arrived in Washington a year and a half ago, and was told to begin "networking," I couldn't think of a more awkward idea than meeting people at social functions and, for lack of a better term, asking for their card in order to email them about a job, later.
Truth is, I was right. Walking up to the person who could hand you the job you want is going to come across to them as exactly that: approaching them about a job you want. And, chances are, they're going to be on the defensive, if for no other reason than you're obviously on the prowl and, in truth, you're using them. Case in point: I called Joy Jones, from the Washington Post, because I loved her work, and I wanted to "network" with her. You know what I got out of that phonecall?

A mailing list.

Yep, I'm on her monthly mailing list.  

On the other hand, Margot, the cook I worked for in Washington DC, emailed me a week ago to see if I wanted to trade running media for her new business for rent, while I get on my feet. 

Clearly, Margot was some of the best networking I ever did in Washington DC.

Margot - who I washed dishes and discussed politics with, on Wednesday nights. Margot, who I set tables beside, talked yoga poses with, bounced ideas for papers off of, and asked about which church I should attend.

Margot thought of my media skills when I emailed her wondering if she knew of a house I could stay in, for cheap, because, in between the clang of dishes, and the din of people eating outside, I had shared my dreams with her.

Here's what I'm trying to say, in a nutshell: networking is the art of openly enjoying what you have in common with other people. 

Exhibit A: One of my best friends, Gina, is designing a logo for a microfinance business I'm starting - pro bono. Who knew that falling apart in her kitchen, laughing and crying when I found out she was pregnant and showing up to her house for her first annual Christmas party last year, could all, in a word, be categorized as "networking"?

Salah from Soap Hope and I connected over Twitter last week, because we share similar interests. We set up a phone meeting, and umpteen stories about how I felt in Africa later, we were discussing how Soap Hope might benefit my newest project.

So, a few pointers.

1. Be interested in people, and what you can learn from them, rather than what you can get out of knowing them.
2. Be transparent.
3. Talk about what you're passionate about - A LOT, with all kinds of people. Last month, it was a family I used to nanny for that made quick mention of a friend who designs for Unicef. 
I connected with her this morning. 
4. Make friends, not contacts. 

I think, more than anything, networking can be defined as the art of valuing relationship with people that have similar interests to you. Keith Sutter and I go to coffee every time I'm home visiting my parents. I started out wanting to connect with him because I saw his work for National Geographic. But a three hour conversation on religious studies, women's rights and gay marriage later, we were friends. And, now, in between asking him which tamron lens I should purchase and asking him how to begin freelancing, I find Keith to be an encouragement in my life, as a person, as well as a professional. 

Mike Plunkett  and I became friends after I freelanced for him, and I regularly bounce ideas and thoughts off of him, when we're not trading new greek restaurant discoveries, and talking about Mexican food. Did I mention that Plunkett and I became friends at Ebeneezers, after I noticed that, he, too, was wearing Chuck Taylors? He's an editor at the Washington Post now, and I'm sure that if I walked up to him at a party, and asked for his card, he wouldn't have offered to give me a tour of DC's finest coffee shops, come spring. 

art found here. 


alexandra said...

you're amazing, shanley knox. can't wait to befriend you, all over again.