The Freelance Life

Lessons in Long-Term Networking

Moo Cup by Mo Riza

I used to be easily frustrated by the prospect of networking. It always seemed like a horribly insincere way to convince people to give you money or a job. The images of preening sycophants declaring their false devotion to your every need filled my mind whenever I saw the word "networking" in writing. When someone encouraged me to attend a networking event, I would shudder and force down my visceral reaction to run the other way.

But not anymore. What happened? Why does the networking process no longer feel me with dread? Is it because I'm older, wiser or more polished? Not at all. (Well, I am older.) Did I simply learn to accept that networking is a necessary reality of life like death and taxes? Nope. So why do my eyes no longer roll around in their sockets at the mention of hobnobbing with prospective clients?

I'll tell you why. The thought of networking doesn't produce anxiety attacks because I learned a very important detail that was never shared with me when I first ventured out into the working world.

Networking = Connecting

When I was younger, I went into meet-and-greet events expecting the working world to offer every desire I could possibly imagine if I were only smart enough, good enough and people liked me. Pass out a few business cards, shake a lot of hands and laugh at the right jokes were the 1, 2, 3 of landing that dream job and making your first billion by the age of 30.

Get Plugged In

Little did I know that networking events are about connecting, not searching for employment. Yes, you get all dressed up, practice your elevator pitch and put yourself out there, but not to land a job, not to earn a referral or fill a rolodex.* No. You do all of this to connect. With the pressure of meeting people who only could offer me gainful employment, I made myself a nervous wreck. Not to mention I was often passing by people who may have made my life easier by simply sharing horror stories, practical advice and pop culture references. Granted, not everyone will become your BFF or your mentor, but it's important to learn how to invest in people whose value goes well beyond the business of business. And that's connecting.

Networking is a skill that will benefit your career if executed correctly, but it need not be tedious, insincere or anxiety producing. If you're pursuing a career that seeks to create greater harmony between who you are and what you do, then interpreting the networking process as a strange bloodletting to keep the tax man at bay will only make you feel cheap and despondent. There are ways to connect with prospective clients and employers without fretting the worst or selling your soul.

Jersey Corn At Kerr Road & Route 94 (Blairstown, NJ)

Overall, long-term networking is more than just updating your LinkedIn account or attending a nearby Meetup event. It's the process of connecting with your fellow (hu)man and building a relationship over time. It may be daunting at first, but knowing your limitations, being personable and taking nothing for granted will help you find a comfort zone that will make the process much less intimidating. Remember you are connecting with people, not just searching for a job. And if you can learn to master this important art form, you will see that every connection can be an enriching one.


* I know I'm dating myself with this reference.

How has your networking perspective changed over time? What are some of the lessons you've learned?

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