Every moment has the potential to be an opportunity. In DC, everyone means business. We’re hardwired with a competitive nature. Just attend a networking event.
I’ll admit, I’ve networked my a** off: in line at the bathroom, on the Red Line, walking home. Time is money — and my time was dedicated to establishing a lasting impression.
Of course, all of that changed when I got a job I enjoy. Now my time on the metro is spent blasting Persian rap through my headphones with a “don’t talk to me” look plastered on my face. While I ditched the network-and-metro gig, I always have my game face on for happy hour. You have to be down to network (and work hard… obviously) in this city if you want to excel.
And we carry that networking attitude with us in most of our interactions — remember, time is money — meeting new friends, coworkers, and potential dates.
Almost every interaction I have with a guy covers the following bases within the first few minutes:
I’m on a date interview before I’ve even decided if I’m interested in the position. The mystery goes down an entire notch by minute four. After one conversation, I know whether my parents will approve of him as my boyfriend. If the conversation is this generic, my parents will likely be bored with him, too.
The Best Kid
We ask because (1) we want to make sure the person is not a whack-job and (2) our competitive nature is coming out to play. We want to know how the person levels up to us. When we’re networking or making a pass at someone, we’re attempting to create a memorable image of ourselves within seconds.
I’ve been programmed to do this. In the Iranian community, our livelihood relies on our image. My mother constantly criticized me for having lower grades than the other kids and bragged about the success of my piano recital to parents. Since my report card didn’t earn bragging rights, she had to get creative. All of the kids were placed in a “Who’s The Best Kid” competition.
As I got older, my family in Iran began asking different questions – my cooking abilities, cleanliness, marriage prospects. My non-existent rice cooking expertise and the overdue laundry in the corner of my room forced my mom to be creative again.
“Farrah vas a virgin for a very long time. She vasn’t like her Ah-mer-ee-kan friends.”
The urge to create an image exists in every aspect of our lives and sometimes that never-ending competition gets exhausting. Sometimes the pressure to be the best just leads to insecurity and frustration — who wants to deal with that?
When it comes to networking, pick a time and place — walking out of the bathroom stall is not preferable. As for dating, we should probably stop judging people on their hometown. My mother is a whole different story.
From Lauren Levine. Email her at lauren[AT]borderstan.com
It’s no secret that DC is a transient city. You’ve probably been here less than three years and probably plan to move within three years, resulting in a lot of social turbulence. Friends must be made and friends must be replaced.
When I first moved here, I was in need of friends. But making friends isn’t easy. I can’t just walk up to a girl with a “Free John Bates” tote bag at the farmer’s market and tell her that she would be my perfect new best friend and would she like to drink wine with me and talk about Jennifer Lawrence? Even though my freckles and dimples are very disarming, she’d probably think I was a creep.
That’s where “friendworking” comes in — meeting friends through mutual friends. Friendworking is networking’s friendlier and more attractive older brother, yet less serious than matchmaking.
Friendworking is More Important than Networking
Networking might get you a new job with more responsibility, a higher pay check and maybe even your own intern. But at the end of the day, will that new job sit with you while you catch up on Breaking Bad? Will your new job take you rock climbing for the first time?
In these early years of our ambitious climb out of entry-level positions, it’s easy to lose sight of what will bring you long-term happiness. Countless studies show that a wide circle of friends and close relationships are the key to happiness.
How to Friendwork
Unlike dating, friendworking in the 21st Century can actually happen outside of OkCupid. You can do it at work, at a happy hour, at a party or at your entertainment venue of choice. Potential friends are everywhere.
- Stop asking everyone “what do you do?” the second you meet them. It’s no way to start off a friendship. Keep that question for networking events only.
- The best way to friendwork is to be open to every new person you meet. They could end up as your best friend, your golf buddy, your foreign film watching companion or your free ride to the nearest Costco. They might be a perfect rebound for your recently dumped best friend, or they may be able to teach you how to make jam (which I know you’ve been dying to learn).
- Be inviting. If you sense that someone in your life could use some new social connections, be a pal and invite them along. Oprah’s book club isn’t exclusive and yours shouldn’t be either.
There are so many things that a new friend could offer you (in a non-professional way), and you’ll never know until you give them a chance!
From Mike Kohn. Have an urban etiquette right that needs to be wronged? Find Mike on Twitter at@mike_kohn or email him at mike[AT]borderstan.com.
With the job market as it is, any new contact is a good one, right? While it seems like that’s the case, burning a bridge with someone you just met doesn’t quite do what you’re looking to accomplish (obviously). As someone who works in human resources and has recently transitioned into a new job, I can vouch for the value of networking.
Despite my strong need to do things on my own, looking at it from the other side, if a highly valued employee is willing to put their reputation on the line in order to represent a contact of theirs, it stands to reason that they’re someone worth talking to. No, they may not be the best person to fill a particular job, but the point is to get a foot in the door — and then the rest is up to them from there.
The best time to do some networking is when you’re not immediately looking for a job. You’re looking for these relationships to be mutually beneficial. In other words, you want to avoid being the person who only gets in touch when they need a job or some other favor. That being said, if that’s the position you’re in, then that’s where you are, and you’ve just got to power through.
Some Steps to Remember
Let’s say you’re given the information of someone you would like to meet through a current contact. So what are some things to keep in mind?
- Do reach out. You’ve got nothing to lose by sending a nice email or phone call asking if you can learn more about someone and their organization by spending 30 minutes with them at coffee or lunch, etc. While you’re naturally looking for a yes, don’t be hurt if you get declined. If that does happen, be sure to respond kindly — you never know when your paths may cross, not to mention this was a referral from your contact.
- Don’t delay in responding to your contact’s connection. If you’re not interested, say so. If you are, don’t wait for three weeks. This is particularly important if your contact has given their connection a heads up, or if your contact sends a note to both you and the new connection.
- Do plan ahead to make sure you get out of your conversation what you want. You’re getting in touch, so you’re setting the agenda. The new connection may have things they want to share, but you need to do your preparation in advance, including getting a basic knowledge of who the person is, and why you’re meeting with them so you both can be in the other’s network.
- Do ask a lot of questions when you’re talking.
- Do listen. And listen. And listen some more.
- Don’t monopolize the conversation by talking about yourself. That’s not why you’re there.
- Maybe ask if you can pass along your resume in case opportunities crop up that are a good fit for you. If the vibe feels right like you’ve made a reasonable connection and it seems like this person can help, then go for it, but use your best judgment. Again, if you’re not in an “I need a job right now” situation, then you can relax and save this for a later time.
- Do send a follow-up thanking the connection for their time. Seems like this would be common sense, but it’s not. This one goes a long way for someone you’d like to do you a favor.
The question of payment does come up frequently, particularly if you’re going for coffee or lunch. Personally, I’m indifferent. If you’re in a position where you can afford it, then go right ahead and offer to take someone out — they’re doing you a favor, so you might as well pick up their latte, and they’ll appreciate it. If you don’t feel like you can, then don’t sweat it.
If you’re unsure and feeling uneasy about what to do, plan on paying and at least make the offer to pay (and go for coffee, not a meal).
Any other networking tips you’ve found useful in your travels?