Networking isn’t anyone’s favourite activity. We all know we ought to do it – definitely while searching for work, and preferably when we’re not, so that we aren’t starting from scratch when we do start looking for a job.
However, you don’t need to schmooze. You do need to assess your responsibilities as a job seeker. While you’re looking for work, you’re not just looking for a you-shaped hole in an organization; you’re putting out information to people who can help with your search, and to those who would benefit from having you work with them.
If you’re doing that well, you’re doing it in a way that respects the other person’s time and context. So, developing an “elevator pitch” isn’t necessarily cheesy – it’s a way to help someone quickly understand the most important things you have to offer. If you’re looking for non-academic work, it’s not “selling out” to highlight the most relevant of your experiences for your new field, and to do so in non-academic language. It’s respecting the other person’s lens.
Networking can feel dehumanizing, and the easiest way to change that is to treat the people you encounter as complete humans. That tends to be the easiest way to network, anyway, in that it involves no misleading statements, and no replacing your best self with a façade.
It means asking for help – and having reasonable expectations about how quickly other people can do that, as well as putting in effort where you can. For example, it makes sense to ask people for introductions to others you wouldn’t necessarily be able to meet on your own – and also to make sure you’ve done your homework about the types of people you’d like to be introduced to, and that you know what you want to talk about when you meet them.
It also means respecting their feelings and fears. If they’re an employer, they likely don’t want to hear about how unreasonable your current work situation is – not because they lack sympathy, but because they’ll wonder if you’d speak the same way about them, if they were to hire you.
Finally, it means respecting the connection that you make, above all else. Often, in an effort to respect people’s time, job seekers don’t follow up with those who’ve helped them along the way. Imagine taking time to meet with someone, introduce them to people you know – and then never hearing from that person again. It might make you feel used. You can respect a person’s time and their own interest in your wellbeing by concisely and sincerely thanking those who’ve helped you, and by letting them know where you’ve ended up.
Granted, you can’t completely prevent the sense of diminishment that comes with the inevitable rejections of the job search – but networking can help. Approaching it with the intent to make it as humanizing as possible for those you meet can help you find work faster, and with your relationships still intact.