I hate the idea of networking — it feels slimy

A reader writes:

I’m a college student, so I’m very early in my professional career, but so far I’ve already had trouble overcoming my aversion/distaste/ineptitude for networking. I’ve only done one summer internship, but I’m always hearing that the only real way to get jobs and find success professionally is through “networking”—a challenge for me, someone who often does poorly in overly performative social situations. I have a hard time reaching out to professors for this kind of thing as well.

Not only do I find myself feeling as though I’m not taking proper advantage of networking opportunities, I have a real distaste for the concept. The idea that I need to make and maintain social connections with people I don’t actually like in the hope of using them for professional gain at some point in the future feels overly invasive and frustrating. I want to make friends at work, but I don’t want to be constantly trying to charm the most advantageous social connection in my vicinity. I know I’m being stubborn about this, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m doing something slimy, or that I’m just not coming off well to the people I think I should be trying to schmooze.

How do I successfully network without feeling like I’m doing something snake-like?

Ugh, networking. A lot of people feel like you do — that it’s somehow phony or manipulative or smarmy.

Some of this might be because you’ve seen bad networkers who truly are smarmy — people oozing self-importance who invade your space with business cards in hand, deliver an unsolicited pitch about their work, and use your name weirdly often in a transparent attempt to establish rapport, or people who make it clear they’re only being friendly to you because they want an introduction to your boss.

But if you’re doing it well, networking shouldn’t be about being pushy or sucking up to people or calculating how they could help you in the future. It should just be about broadening the circle of people who you’re genuinely interested in knowing. And if you’re thinking “well, I’m not genuinely interested in getting to know random strangers,” that’s the wrong way to look at it. Instead, look at it as “my work brings me into contact with people who probably have similar interests to my own, and in many cases it will be interesting to get to know them better.”

It might sound cheesy, but truly, networking is just about making genuine connections with people. So you don’t need to do it with people you’re not genuinely interested in getting to know, but you’ll find it more fulfilling (and ultimately useful) if you’re open-minded about people and the commonalities you might share.

Once you’ve created a circle of people who you’re connected with — professionally or otherwise — then yes, that opens up possibilities for you both to be helpful and to seek help. But the whole thing will be far more palatable — and you’ll be better at it — if you don’t go in with that as your primary focus.

A bit about the “being helpful” piece of that: You might feel, as someone early in your career, that you don’t have anything to offer people who are more established than you, and you might wonder what they would get out of connecting with you at all. Don’t discount the value you can bring to a potential relationship by showing genuine interest in someone else and respect for their expertise. Lots of people get satisfaction out of being able to answer questions like “can you tell me about your experience as a woman in this field?” or “what are the best industry publications for me to read?” or “is Company X really family-friendly?” (Note, of course, that those questions are very different from “can you help me find a job?” The relationship might eventually get strong enough to ask for that kind of help, but that’s not where you start.)

In other words, you don’t have to be able to offer people job leads or new business to get them to talk to you. But good networkers do generally know that the relationship could end up benefiting them somewhere down the line in ways that aren’t obvious right now. Who knows, they might be able to recommend you to someone in their network who’s looking for your skill set, or get your help on a project down the road, or even turn to you for advice one day. Those sorts of things aren’t an immediate quid pro quo, but they are useful … and it’s not an inherently icky thing for relationships to be mutually beneficial.

So, how do you actually make all this happen? A lot of it is about putting yourself in places where it can happen, and just being open to talking to people. A huge amount of networking and relationship-building happens at conferences, so when you have the chance to go to even semi-relevant conferences, take it. If someone suggests coffee and you have time to go, go. Hang out in your field’s online forums and blogs, spend some time in field-relevant LinkedIn groups, and post and respond to people there.

Then, once you meet people, stay in touch. Congratulate them when LinkedIn announces they have a new job. Send a link to a TED Talk that references what you last spoke with them about. Ask their opinion about an idea you’re grappling with. (Don’t ask just for the sake of being in touch, because that can be disrespectful of a busy person’s time. Again, be genuine.) Do all this, and at whatever point you’re searching for your next job, you’ll have a network already in place that you can reach out to for help, and you won’t have to scramble to try to build contacts. And hopefully, you’ll have built relationships that are useful and rewarding in other ways, too.

That said, you don’t have to do any of this. You won’t become unemployable just because you choose not to focus on networking. It’s not as obligatory a part of job searching as, for example, having a résumé is. But it can expand your options and make your professional life more interesting and fulfilling, and it can put you in a position to help other people. So before you write it off completely, it’s worth experimenting to see if there are at least pieces of networking that you find bearable and worthwhile.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 209 comments… read them below }

  1. Justme, The OG*

    Thank you for this post! We’re talking about networking on one of my classes, so this brings a good perspective to it that I think a lot of my classmates and I were missing.

    1. Specialk9*

      My approach is to reframe what networking is about, and make it my own thing that is affirming and generous.

      I’m someone who draws a _hard_ line in the sand about not using people (eg I am friends with the CEO’s admin, but even with a lot of corporate changes and anxiety, I never even brought that up because I will not put her in that spot of feeling used).

      So I approach networking as making community, and finding ways to help people. Community is about connections with people who care (at varying levels based on the strength of that connection). There are lots of ways to help people – I make it a point to help solve problems others are having whenever I reasonably can (so long as they’re not users who take endlessly). So I’m on the lookout for people who need to be connected to this person or group, or a heads-up on a big initiative that would change things, or need a quick document, or such. I also set up quarterly meeting between the people who should be talking regularly but aren’t, and get them connecting. (This kind of thing I can do directly because of my seniority and role, but an entry level person can float this kind of idea to a manager, who ‘champions’ it, then you coordinate the actual Outlook invites and emails.)

      On the personal letter, a lot of people feel lonely and unconnected at work – I invite people who are new or isolated to coffee or lunch and make intros. I have a monthly lunch for this group and that.

      Reframing it that way is *powerful*. It’s transformational and empowering and, I think, at heart a really lovely way to go through life. (At the very least, it does that for me.)

      1. Marillenbaum*

        I really, really love this. I think this idea of helping people find each other who might really benefit from one another’s expertise is useful, and being able to help people who feel isolated is just kind. So, so good.

      2. KitKat*

        Yes, so much this! When I was in college, I also thought that networking was just going to networking events and/or handing people my contact info in inappropriate situations. Reframing it as Specialk9 says above is SO helpful, especially for someone who isn’t a great mingler.

        For me, networking is as simple as being open to meeting new people, and keeping in touch with people I meet whom I like.

      3. Koko*

        If you haven’t already, I recommend the book Give and Take by Adam Grant. It makes a powerful case that operating the way you do is more than just personally/morally satisfying – it’s also what the world’s most successful people do. You can have your cake and eat it too :)

      4. Empty Sky*

        I have done the same kind of reframing and it’s worked well for me.

        I was never a particularly social person and I used to think the same way the OP did. I never liked the idea of networking or thought I was any good at it, and more or less opted out of the whole thing. Then one day I found myself thinking how lucky I was that (thanks to being in my job a long time) I knew pretty much everyone in the company, and that practically any time I was presented with a problem outside my expertise I would generally know exactly who the right person was to talk to. And that that person would typically know me, have worked with me in the past, and be happy to help out in any way they could. And that sometimes this extended to people outside the company who I’d worked or had contact with in the past, and could have discussions with over coffee or at social events. And that the people I contacted were generally very happy to help, because it validated their experience and reminded them that sometimes a 5 minute conversation with them could save somebody a week of work. And that many of them would come to me in similar situations, and I got a lot of satisfaction out of sharing my experience and helping them short-circuit a problem that might otherwise have blocked them. But of course I was terrible at networking, and I didn’t want to do it anyway, because it was exploitative and icky. Right?

      5. Gayle Davidson-Durst*

        Yes – this!

        I used to feel like you, LW. One time my firm ordered me to attend a party thrown by our professional organization, and I literally cried in the bathroom, I was so miserable and “alone in a crowd.”

        Now I realize that my type of networking is 1.) doing amazing work and making other peoples’ lives easier at my job (people move on, and suddenly you’ve got contacts at other companies, like magic, with no smarmy business card nonsense) and 2.) volunteering at industry events. I still feel super awkward at semi-social gatherings, but when I have a clear task I feel comfortable, and I get to know the people I’m working with naturally.

        1. Sleepy Librarian*

          I’d say the same. I attended conferences for my very large professional association and never talked to anyone, then one day I worked up the courage to volunteer for a couple of its many committees, even though I felt like I was too new to the field and didn’t have much to offer. A mentor convinced me that it’s not always about what I can provide, but about working toward solutions together, and that being a human on this planet working in this field, my input was relevant. Now I am building a small network that is based off of working on projects together, and not simply that smarmy feeling of just making a contact. Because I was completely in OP’s boat–and like Gayle says, still super awkward at social gatherings.

  2. B*

    As I was reading this, I was thinking about how earlier in my career, I was really interested in an area that was somewhat related to what I did, but distinct. Let’s say I was interested in teapot analysis, but I worked in coffeepot analysis.

    I used to try to go to events and network with people who worked in teapot analysis to try to find someone who would instantly respect my coffeepot analysis experience and say “You are the next great teapot analyst,” but it never felt productive or good because I cared about teapots but I couldn’t make the teapot – coffeepot connection well.

    However, I kept paying attention to teapots, and with time, I was able to shape job opportunities into tea/coffee hybrid. Eventually, I found an opportunity that was teapot analysis focused, but has a real coffeepot analysis strain. And now, when I go to events/have conversations with people, I’m much more confident because I can make that connection and show what I’m capable of. All of a sudden, more people want to talk to me.

    TL;DR – Do work you care about, talk to everyone you can, but also find a way to make the networking piece make sense to YOU and your career.

    1. Tassie Tiger*

      What a great comment! It makes me feel better about that fact that some skills take me rather longer to pick up.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Talk to everyone you can.

      A huge aspect of networking is just to have a lot of social contacts. (“Social” meaning any form of connection.) Lots of people make career moves that at some point had a “My bowling captain’s sister is looking for someone with your skills” element.

      1. Renamis*

        I’ve started networking at my current job. Grant, I never made the decision to do so, I just woke up one morning and realized I accidentally did so, and have continued my behavior.

        I’m polite to everyone. Even if I don’t know someone, I say hi at the least. I have people recognizing me and asking after me who I honestly can’t remember, all because I’ve been polite and nice to them whenever they see me. And further more, I’m polite and nice to OTHERS whenever they see me. Between that and my decent work output, it’s all I’ve needed to do. Forcing networking doesn’t always work so well. Putting yourself into networking situations helps, but you don’t have to always selectively target individuals for “use” later. Be natural and nice and things might work out better than expected.

    3. Stacie*

      Great point! I definitely learned the lesson in finding the right networking group for me too. I went to one that had me so discouraged afterward. The vibe was weird, it wasn’t for a specific industry so it was a random assortment of people, and it seemed like everyone was there just talking to their buddies and not opened up to actually meeting other people at all. I left after talking to the host and literally one other person at the bar. After that I just felt so down about how much I sucked at networking. Two days later I had another one scheduled with very different types of people and atmosphere. Still a broad group but at least with a target audience. I also connected with someone who I knew went to them first so I could have a buffer. It was SO MUCH BETTER and now I’m going every month.

  3. Snark*

    The thing I’ve realized about networking is that, done right, it’s not schmoozing or performative. I’ve recently started a crash job search, and I’ve been using my network heavily, and I’ve realized that I’ve got a larger network than I expected. But it’s not people I performed for. My cube neighbor recalled that a contact of hers had been hired under a disability hiring program and offered to connect us. A person I’ve done a lot of work put in a recommendation for me with a hiring manager she knew would be filling positions soon. My old boss put me in touch with his boss. It’s just people I’ve worked with and for, who I’ve had mutually satisfying and productive work relationships, who I can call on for a favor. It’s much more organic than it seems.

    1. selina kyle*

      That really helps to put it in perspective. I’m similar to LW in that I’m pretty early on in the career and have had trouble with the idea of networking – but thinking of it as just keeping in touch and doing good work with other people really simplifies it and makes it less intimidating.

      1. Snark*

        Doesn’t it? It was such a relief when I realized that. Unfortunately, by necessity, your network when you’re a newb is pretty small, but it’s larger than you realize when you frame it as, “who do I know who would be willing and positioned to help me with a work-related thing.” I got my current job because my parents’ old work friends ran into my current boss, their neighbor, at a Wal-Mart!

        1. selina kyle*

          That really helps! I’m looking to move from midwest to the west coast in about ~1 year (after I get enough time under my belt at this job) and so it’s pretty intimidating – but I think if I start thinking of it like that it can help.

        2. Washi*

          Definitely! I also feel like in my experience, if you don’t have a large network as a college student, the solution isn’t to go to a bunch of networking events and build shallow connections that are unlikely to yield anything anyway. It’s to tap the connections you do have, while also applying online to a bajillion jobs, then do good work in the job you land in, and build your network organically from there.

          1. Snark*

            Yep. Unfortunately, that just makes it frustrating, when you’re entry-level, to hear “90% of jobs are filled through networking!” and other such received wisdom.

    2. Anon for this*

      I too like the OP, find I’m not “good” at networking and find asking for help to be embarrassing. But when I was laid off and needed to find a new job, I discovered I actually have a network and people were so nice about helping me.

      At first I was hesitant to reach out to others, but someone pointed out: if I were in a position to help someone I know, would I? And of course I would! I love helping people! So you can think about it that way. It also comes down to my past – I’ve always worked well with others and support and help people when I can. So it’s not that surprising the friendly working relationships I cultivated with colleagues then produced good a network.

      OP also asked if you should network with people you don’t like: I’d say No. And if you find this limits your networking opportunities, then I would ask why you’re finding that you don’t like so many people.

        1. jd*

          I used to be in that position, finding myself connecting with people I didn’t even like and found unpleasant and draining to be around. It turned out that while I liked the area I was working in for the work itself, I didn’t like a lot of the people who gravitated to that area, many of whom seemed to be there for different reasons than I was, with the result that the field was toxic for me in a lot of other ways too. I ended up moving into a parallel field where I was still doing similar work but surrounded by people I admire, respect, and genuinely enjoy connecting with. I’m a socially-anxious introvert and I LOVE networking now and excel at it because it gives me a structured way to connect with other human beings who are as passionate about what we do as I am.

    3. Triple Anon*

      Exactly. It’s just people helping people. It’s like getting to know your neighbors. It feels awkward when you’re the one who’s new in town and needing help. But people are happy to help. Partly because a lot of people are nice, but also because they know they might need to ask you for help at some point. I think it’s good to approach it that way. Like you’re new in town and meeting everyone. “Hi! I’m Jane. I just graduated from X School with a degree in Y and I’m interested in Z. I’m job hunting.” Then you make friendly conversation. Ask about their career and what their interests are, and make normal small talk just like with anyone else. Easy.

  4. Trout 'Waver*

    I think most people out there are good people that like to help others. I count myself in the group as well. Networking is just realizing that and opening up to those around you.

    1. Tuxedo Cat*

      If the letter writer’s college has a decent alum group, they should reach out to the alum group. Alums love helping current students and other alums.

      I mentor students and I try to introduce them to people I think are going to be interesting and helpful for them. Everyone wants to help.

    2. Specialk9*

      Malcolm Gladwell’s “Tipping Point” (a fun read) really helped me recognize the value and importance of people who are connectors, and how powerful their influence is. Not because they are slimy schmoozers, the opposite – because they care about people, really listen, and make connections in their head and then between people. It’s a gift, and something each of us can work on doing.

  5. Jady*

    I think the need for networking really depends on your field. I’m a social recluse and don’t really make much effort maintaining old contacts. The only need I’ve had for them are references. But my field is in high demand, so it’s never been very difficult to get a job.

  6. not so sweet*

    For a university student, it might feel more natural to do networking with peers and near-peers – maybe you already do this? – than to think of doing it now in the adult career environment.

    Like finding out that your biology lab partner is an Agriculture major who wants to get into beekeeping, and you know that your roomie’s parents keep bees. Or your jazz choir needs a website, and you know that the guy you deliver pizza with also builds websites. Neither of those examples are about you putting your information out there, but they are about conversations you have in which you find out stuff about other people and remember it. Also, in those conversations, you might be mentioning stuff about yourself, like you’d love to do a long-distance hiking trip next summer but not by yourself, you brought your goalie gear to university but you don’t play on a community team because you’d need rides to the games … You might not even be mentioning the stuff in a goal-oriented way, but it might pay off anyway. All that is networking. And I’d bet that the OP doesn’t see that as slimy, but more as an admirable social skill (whether or not they think they are good at it.)

    *The goalie one is true-ish. A young woman in my family was watching a hockey game on TV with a male housemate and mentioned her history as a goalie, expressing some regret about not having transport or time to commit to a women’s team. He mentioned this to his mother, who played on a recreational women’s team in a community not too far away. Next thing, she got a call asking if she’d fill in for their goalie at a weekend tournament, rides and expenses covered.

    1. Naptime Enthusiast*

      This is an excellent way of looking at it. Networking isn’t just about finding someone to give you a job, it’s about making those connections with and between other people to fulfill needs.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      This is a great example of what happens when you collect up who does what. And also collect up who is looking for what.
      It’s a habit that one builds, after a bit it gets easier and easier to the point of being almost automatic.
      It can also work for personal life stuff, too. Your house has a foundation problem. You remember your cohort talking about their uncle who just got their foundation fixed. You remember that the uncle was pleased with the work. You ask cohort to find out the name and contact info of the person who did the work.

    3. Serin*

      Here’s another tip for networking as a student or someone new to a career: It’s all right to have nothing to contribute except curiosity and enthusiasm. Those are valuable, too.

      1. First Time Caller*

        Yes, exactly. Never underestimate how much people like to feel like they are interesting to others!

  7. caryatis*

    I don’t think networking is likely to be successful if you’re doing it with people you don’t like. Do it with people you like.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Omg, yes. I remember going to a job fair. We were waiting for a presentation to start and one woman was talking loudly on her phone. She had over 500 contacts in her network. And she let go of other information that indicated she was job hunting practically 24/7 and talking to everyone in the world.
      Oddly, she could not find a job.

      At first I was kind of intimidated by this woman and foolishly started counting how many people I knew. Then I realized. No, you have to have a thought out plan, she is throwing everything at the wall and hoping something will stick. Her 500 people see right through her, they are not interested in being her stepping stones in life.

      Think through what you are doing. Choose folks who YOU admire, and folks who you think keep good ethics. Definitely help folks who indicate that they are willing to help you. If you genuinely like the person or admire them professionally, it’s not cheesy or snakey. I think it’s a good idea to start out small, keep your group that you network with small for a short bit so you can get a feel for how it goes and you can get used to the sound of your own voice saying, “I was wondering if you could help me with ____” OR “I saw this the other day and thought of you and your interests so I saved it for you…”

      People new to the work force have one advantage that seems to get missed. Because of job searching a new person has an awareness of what is out there that the older, settled folks do not have. Newbies tend to know more about what is up and coming. Who is making New Thing work well, and who is having a hard time with New Thing. It’s easy when you are new to take that for granted, but older, settled folks may NOT know about some of this stuff because they limit their awareness of their surrounding arena.

      1. Mad Baggins*

        Totally agree. As a newbie it feels like your network is so small, and you don’t know anything so what could you even say or do to contribute? But newbies have lots of advantages as well!

        I’ve found it helpful to study people and industries like I was writing a character in a book with their job. Someone says they work in Teapot Refinery. “What exactly does that mean? What do you do on an average day?” Once you get the picture of the job, time to flesh out character motivations. “What made you choose that field? How did you get there? What is fun/hard about it? What do you want to do next? Why?” I’ve found it gives me a lot of useful benchmarks about what kinds of jobs exist in the world and why someone would work there, and then later I can think about how it applies to me.

    2. Serin*

      Yes, so much this.

      And — if, when you’re networking with people in your field, you find that you don’t like most of them? Or they’re just fine, but you have nothing in common and can’t find anything to talk about? Look for another field.

      — signed, a person who should never, ever have attempted to be a journalist.

  8. AKB*

    I love Alison’s answer to this. I struggled with the same question as a student and the “speed networking” events hosted by my university only contributed to the feeling. Only several years in the workplace and taking my own approach to networking (e.g., slowly building my circle by being helpful and regularly keeping in touch with colleagues whether that’s once a year or once a quarter) has helped me see the value and removed my distaste for the idea of it.

  9. LQ*

    This is so helpful!

    And maybe this is just me but I’m ok with someone from 5 or even 10 years ago in my work life reaching out to me and saying, hey I have a question, genuine interest in your field, need help looking for work, whatever…even if we haven’t talked for 10 years. I don’t know that I’d still put that person’s resume in front of my boss with a hire this person stamp (maybe 1 or 2 I would but..). But I’m still happy to have coffee and help, send along tips on getting through to the interview stage or whatever. I don’t (at least personally) need to have constant connection, as long as my memory of you is positive or at least neutral, I’m happy to be able to do something to help. (And while it might just be me, I don’t actually think I’m alone on this.)

    1. Snark*

      Absolutely. It’s not necessarily a constant connection that requires schmoozing. Was it someone you had a positive working relationship with, who would remember you positively? That’s your network.

      1. LQ*

        Absolutely. The constant connection part has always felt a little schmoozy and gross to me. But the “I need your help”? Sure! Happy to give it if I can.

    2. Yorick*

      I agree. I’m delighted when someone I liked but haven’t talked to in a long time reaches out.

      1. Snark*

        And on the flipside, I reached out to a networking contact who also shares my devotion to beer, and he was like, oh hey dude, had anything good lately? Let’s hoist one at chat sometime.

      2. hermit crab*

        Me too! I’m also listed in my undergrad program’s alumni directory and I genuinely enjoy getting emails from current/recent students who want to learn more about my field or the company I work for. I find it really helpful for myself, actually – talking to students gives me a chance to take a step back from the day-to-day and think about what I do from a different perspective.

  10. Tuxedo Cat*

    I think networking has kind of a negative connotation. Not as succinct, but I think of it as getting to know professional contacts and being like professional friends.

    In my experience, having a strong professional network is important and has done a lot for me. However, it’s not about getting to know the “important’ people but making genuine connections with people who you like and share professional interests. Most of the time I’ve seen people who only form connections with the “important” people don’t succeed. It’s usually because the “important” people are already busy and have tons of people contacting them.

  11. anony*

    Do you have a difficulty “liking” people in general? I only say this because I’ve known some people who’ve felt this way about networking and meeting others, and uh, well, it was obvious that they weren’t approaching social interactions very positively and didn’t help them professionally (or otherwise). It might be worth looking at yourself, and seeing if you can just approach this in a positive way. Try to just enjoy learning and getting to know other people. I always figure that as long as I’m not doing something totally out of character and non-genuine it isn’t smarmy networking.

    And if that sounds too much? Don’t do it! There’s no requirement to network, and I know for many professionals it never becomes a huge help anyway. But you are going to have to be nice enough to get 3 references, so be sure to do that.

    1. Ainomiaka*

      This is close to my issue, and I would be fascinated to hear commenters/Alison’s take. The way I get to like people is being geeky in ways that are almost always against what would be considered professional behavior. So I’d go to conferences and smile and chat and be professional and get some business cards and feel positively inclined towards people but know for sure that they aren’t/won’t be my friends or really people that know me well enough to go to bat for me.
      Anony does that match your experience? OP? I don’t have good suggestions to get past it, but I do have sympathy.

      1. Yorick*

        Well, you can definitely discuss things that are outside of your field (sports, tv, whatever geeky thing you’re into) and bond in that way as well.

      2. Specialk9*

        It sounds like you’ve confused work friends with friend friends. Work friends are not soul mates, and you have to watch your lines of appropriateness. They’re people to socialize with at work, and watch out for professionally, and work together in an enjoyable way. Do I generally tell people at work I spend huge amounts of my brain planning for zombie attacks, and think converted garbage truck homes are AWESOME? Nope, I don’t, they’d think I was nuts, and that’s ok that I filter stuff out for my audience. I can care about someone, and we can watch out for each other, without baring our souls.

      3. anony*

        I think it’s important to realize that networking isn’t the same thing as friends! There might be a misunderstanding here about how close you really need to be with people. They don’t have to bond with you about your geeky (I don’t mean this offensively, using your phrase :) ) hobby and be your BFF, you just have to be able to have a conversation with them that’s enjoyable. Essentially, they have to have enjoyed spending time with you enough to do a small favor later and enjoy being able to help.

        So, on that note, if you can’t have a conversation that’s enjoyable with someone while being professional, I’d say that’s something to work on! I suppose that’s what I meant above, as well. I’d say there’s ton topics that most people can talk about, not to mention the work itself.

        1. Decima Dewey*

          I’d also say that if you’re feeling that you’re using someone to get to the next rung on the ladder, you’re doing networking wrong.

          It’s about establishing relationships, true. But it doesn’t have to be sleazy or manipulative.

          I worked with someone for awhile as his occasional boss (that is, when the actual boss was out and it was just down to me and the junior members of the department). Years later, I worked with him as my boss at the branch I’m working now. Later still, he recommended me for a committee which was trying out a new idea that he thought I’d be interested in. My interactions with him weren’t intentionally about getting connections at work, although they worked out that way.

        2. Ainomiaka*

          See that’s always how I was told to get over the slimy feeling -you’re making friends. Friends help each other when they can w/o it being transactional. Which I agree with. And I agree in principle that good networking has that as well. But how tp actually do it. . it’s more the opposite of specialk9’s description above. I’m not at all confused about the difference between work friends and friends. I’m just not motivated to make the former.

          1. anony*

            I’m not sure what you’re asking. If you don’t feel motivated to network, but want to, you’ll have to push yourself to do it. But if that’s too unpleasant then you certainly don’t have to!

            I think the nature of meeting people at a conference is that they’ll not be able to vouch for you and bat for you as much as say, a coworker or a boss. But lots of people just like to help out even with small connections, not to mention they’re solving another problem as well (say you need a job, and someone needs to hire someone. two problems solved!)

            1. Ainomiaka*

              I’m not really asking anything anymore. Offering internet understanding to those that have similar issues.

      4. Kelly L.*

        Yeah, I feel this. It may be a subset of impostor syndrome, where I feel like I don’t have any topics of conversation that won’t either Out Me As Geeky And Therefore Unprofessional, or Out Me As Having Grown Up Poor And Therefore Unprofessional.

        To make it extra clear, I don’t actually think that everyone out there finds geekdom unprofessional, or that everyone out there is looking for proof that I’ve never been to the Hamptons. But a lot of times when I have schmoozy conversations, I get really worried afterward that I accidentally said something unprofessional. Did I come off like a sex fiend because I mentioned GoT? Did I accidentally say “yer” instead of a plummy “youuuur” (actual thing I once got made fun of for at work)? So I’m always trying to be on my guard, but if I’m on my guard, I’m not sure how real the friendships are. It’s not that I’m negative about the other people! They’re fine! I’m just worried that I either came off robotic or put my foot in my mouth.

        1. Ainomiaka*

          Ooh yes. You said it beautifully. I completely know where you are coming from on the robotic (well, for me it’s bland) or foot in the mouth.

    2. Snark*

      Yeah, I pinged on that sentence with “overly performative social situations,” and was having a hard time coming up with phrasing that wasn’t basically like, “so, just covering all the bases, are you pretty sure you’re not an asshole or anything like that?”

      My bluntness is occasionally not productive.

      1. Ainomiaka*

        That’s a fair question. Personally I read overly performative as professional, but I don’t know what the poster meant.

      2. CMart*

        OP might not be an asshole, but they may very well just be strange-people-apathetic, or generally lacking in curiosity. That’s how I am.

        People make those qualities out to be Great Sins (signs of an asshole, of being unintelligent, etc…) but I do think they can be value-neutral. Some people don’t particularly care about cats. I don’t particularly care about getting to know other people. If I end up meeting someone I click with, awesome! I have extroverted tendencies, I cherish the time spent with my actual friends and family and I always enjoy meeting someone interesting, but I really can’t be assed to seek out new and interesting people.

        I’m not professionally ambitious. I like my middle of the road job and will be happy with whatever small promotions come my way as I gain new skills, but this isn’t a passion of mine. I like the salary, the benefits, the hours, and the commute. We’re encouraged to “network” with executive-level people at my company, and I never want to. I’m not really interested in their career path, or what they think it takes to “make it” at our company. I’m not that interested in our industry. I cheerfully perform my job duties to a more-than-satisfactory level and I go home to the people I DO like.

        I don’t think I’m an asshole! Perhaps I’m wrong, but I value having warm relationships with people and it very much matters to me if people like me. But there is no amount of digging inside of myself that I can do to make me actually care about creating genuine connections with a wider net of people. Therefore any activities involved in doing so are strictly performative. I’d rather be home with my family 100% of the time, not grabbing beers with an Industry Leader.

        1. Snark*

          And this is why I was searching for other wording than my (mostly facetious) use of “asshole,” which really doesn’t cover it. Though I think there’s a certain flavor of socially indifferent person that can be misanthropic and dismissive, which is a decent working definition of asshole, and that’s the kind of person that phrase honestly brought to mind.

          I’m kind of the same way as you, honestly, in the sense that I do not seek out a wide net, but I do cultivate positive and functional work relationships with people I do actually work with, and those relationships have occasionally been incredibly fruitful for one or both parties.

          1. Someone else*

            I think part of my problem has been, yes I’m generally apathetic to new people, but also, except for the very rare occasion where I super-click with someone, I just sort of assume I haven’t made a substantial enough impression on people in my network (and I’m using that term now as I’ve just understood it from reading this article and the comments above) that I’d feel comfortable reaching out to them later, about almost anything. This might mean I’m networking wrong (although I’d say I’m almost never networking on purpose). It might mean I just underestimate myself. I try to take a “do unto others” standpoint unless I have reason to do otherwise. So I guess…if one of most of those people reached out to me, I’d be surprised and probably feel weird about it, and so I assume they’d feel the same of me. Trying not to be a hypocrite, that leaves my actual network at about 6 people. And I’m 10 years into my career and well-respected in my field.

            I also have a really hard time with meeting new people at conferences. I certainly meet plenty of them, but I’m really bad at small talk. Or just…talking to people in general. If they’re coming to me with specific questions about what company does or could do for them, I’m great. I’m knowledgeable. I can have that conversation. But if it’s a cocktail hour or something and people are just mingling, I am not good at that, especially if I have to try to initiate the conversation. I’m sure it doesn’t help that I have no interest in it. So then it does end up performative to an extent because I’m 100% pretending I have any interest in being there and interacting with others, because at a macro-level, I don’t.

            1. CMart*

              “So then it does end up performative to an extent because I’m 100% pretending I have any interest in being there and interacting with others, because at a macro-level, I don’t.”

              This is where AAM, and networking advice in general, always falls apart for me. It comes down to getting to a place where you find the encounters genuine and for some of us that place doesn’t exist.

              Per AAM’s lovely advice in the NY Mag article, “truly, networking is just about making genuine connections with people. So you don’t need to do it with people you’re not genuinely interested in getting to know, but you’ll find it more fulfilling (and ultimately useful) if you’re open-minded about people and the commonalities you might share.”

              That tells me active-networking isn’t for me. I’m not a misanthrope by any means (people are lovely! I’m sure they’re all very interesting in their own ways!) I just really, really don’t care about gathering more people into my circles. I’m 100% not genuinely wanting to interact in a casual-professional way, so there’s a cliff that I fall off in trying to mind-game myself into thinking a networking event is anything but an annoying obligation.

              I accept there are likely professional limitations from having that attitude, but perhaps the acceptance of those limitations are part and parcel of what makes me network-apathetic. If I was truly desirous of opening doors and seeking opportunities I would likely find networking much more interesting.

        2. Cobol*

          I said something similar below, but there’s a certain type of high performer who has trouble seeing the full picture. They’re laser-focused, and can really turn it on, and fundamentally seem to be befuddled by people on the opposite end of the spectrum.

        3. paul*

          That sounds very similar to me.

          I value being decent to people but I don’t particularly want to be deeply intricately invested in random people. Maybe some of that’s work related burnout, I honestly can’t remember if I’ve always been this way or not.

          1. Specialk9*

            Deeply intricately interested in random people is pretty much the opposite of networking. It’s ok to enjoy a little moment of connection with someone, and want to help them if something comes along, without being soul mates.

            My approach is to invest time according to what level of my connection bullseye they’re in. I have an enormous family and a handful of true lifelong friends (smallest and most important inner ring – biggest investment of time and energy), a few dozen more casual friends who are local and/or new friends (next out ring), and a bunch of friendly acquaintances and work buddies. For me, community is a really big deal so I work at keeping my connections connected. But it’s totally ok to have a bullseye with fewer people in each ring! And you have to invest different amounts of time and energy at each circle of the bullseye, because it’s impossible to be deeply connected to each.

      3. bb-great*

        I just read that as “social situations where the underlying reason is not because we genuinely like each other, but because we want something out of each other,” which is exactly the kind of slimy networking OP is talking about. I wouldn’t make the leap that OP just hates people, being social, or adhering to a basic standard of politeness (although I guess that could be true). OP is still at a stage where most of their relationships are either purely social (friends and classmates) or supervisors (teachers, professors, and bosses) and I do think there’s a bit of a mental leap you need to do to start thinking about a professional network.

        1. Cobol*

          It can even just be social situations that are more forced (e.g. a work party). I’ve noticed there’s something that goes hand-in-hand with the idealism of youth that makes these situations seem less natural.

          1. bb-great*

            Yeah, I think a lot of people approach work parties as “these people aren’t my friends, why would I socialize with them?” Like there’s a black-and-white approach where either you’re real friends or you’re just coworkers. And some people always stay that way, but most people eventually realize it’s worth a little bit of chitchat to make the workplace more pleasant, even if these aren’t people you’d give a kidney to.

            1. Cobol*

              Somebody said it below, but the younger you are the more obvious the two different groups are. I always laugh at the comments about something a parent did that books down to not realizing the difference between parents and non parents is just the having our not having of kids.

        2. Snark*

          I agree with your overall point, but I’m not sure I agree that all transactional networking efforts are necessarily slimy. I think there is a certain value, if one can, in that stage where you’re just starting out and don’t have an organic professional network, to putting in the effort to meet people.

          Story: when I was in grad school, we had a weekly guest symposium, and there was usually a reception afterward. It was basically a bunch of grad students grazing on free food and faculty awkwardly small-talking, so not the most natural social occasion ever. But I made a point of going, and chatting with the speaker, and one such speaker suggested a statistical approach that made my dissertation really badass and let me tease out a whole additional chapter of analysis. Was I there because I wanted something out of him? Yes, and obviously so. But he got a beer out of the deal, and helped someone a great deal in exchange for fifteen minutes of his time, and everybody was happy.

          1. bb-great*

            I take it back, I wouldn’t say all transactional networking efforts are slimy. I think the “everybody was happy” part of your story is the key there; you got something the speaker was willing to give freely, you weren’t badgering him for a job or whatever, and it worked out to mutual benefit.

            1. Snark*

              And on the flipside, I totally get how a lot of transactional networking events feel super icky, having been invited to “networking events” where young gentlemen donned their finest business casual and hosed themselves down with Axe body spray to ask, with a remarkable lack of nuance, if I would hire them. Transactional is fair enough when it’s symbiotic, or at least benignly one-sided, like a a remora riding a shark. When it’s just nakedly parasitic is when it gets real gross.

              1. Specialk9*

                “Transactional is fair enough when it’s symbiotic, or at least benignly one-sided, like a a remora riding a shark. When it’s just nakedly parasitic is when it gets real gross.”

                Aaaaand here we have the perfect image.

                1. Snark*

                  Hi, my name is Snark. We worked together on a project a few years ago. How have you been? Can I cling to your gills and eat any scraps of prey that escape your jaws?

          2. Yorick*

            That speaker may have even greatly enjoyed hearing about your dissertation and discussing that statistical technique. I usually enjoy such things.

            1. Snark*

              Hell, even just the flattery of being consulted as an expert. Who doesn’t like being the man with the plan?

      4. Cobol*

        Some people are naturally social. Some people work hard to be social (even if it’s because they feel like they have to). Some people feel awkward. Some people are awkward. Some people come across as awkward (but really are assholes). Some people are really awkward.
        I’m in the third to last group, and OP is describing themselves in that way too me. I have trouble in large groups of strangers because I don’t know what the right thing to say is, so I’m always coming across as weird (if I’m being natural), or an asshole if I’m trying to say the right thing.
        OP if I’m reading you right my advice is to just be yourself. You won’t be a great networker, but some people will really like you, and others will think you’re fine. We all want to be the one people love, but all skills are a combination of work and innate ability.

        1. Specialk9*

          I’m so socially awkward too! It was a revelation when I realized that the most effective strategy is to listen, hard, and ask follow-up questions. “That’s interesting, tell me more” is magic.

          But I also keep conversation starter questions on a note on my phone, and before an event I’ll go to a funny news site like Fark to find stories to talk about if things get awkward.

          1. Cobol*

            I think a lot of us default to if you don’t know how something is going to be received don’t say anything.

          2. Lalaroo*

            My super power is being able to be interested in anything. I do. not. care. about sports, but my family LOVES football, so I’ve watched a lot of it by default. Hence, I know a lot about football, because I can’t stop myself from asking a billion questions to find out why that guy did that thing, or what the announcer means when he said that, or what the history is between these two teams, etc. And it works that way for pretty much everything! So I’m a pretty good small-talker, once the convo gets going.

      5. LouiseM*

        Wow, I didn’t get this sense at all from the OP’s post. She seemed to me like a very thoughtful young person who wants to learn how to act ethically but also for her own benefit in a social situation that doesn’t feel natural to her.

        One thing I like about (most of) the commenters here is that people are very open about the anxieties they experience in the workplace, even things that might seem like not a big deal to others but are huge deals to them (receiving emails, making small talk over lunch, answering well-meaning questions about weekend plans). For people who have to pretend to be “on” a lot of the time, it’s nice to be honest here and say, actually I don’t like this. So I don’t think suggesting a college student who is uneasy networking is an “asshole” (even though I know you meant it in jest) is a helpful contribution.

        1. Snark*

          That’s fair, definitely, and I don’t mean to suggest except very much in jest that they are. It wasn’t helpful. What might be helpful, and what I was trying to gesture at there, is the observation that it’s very easy to let one’s intolerance of performative glad-handing curdle into a general sense of resentment of putting oneself out there to form good professional relationships at all, and for that resentment to color how one approaches professional contacts in a way that can seem like anything from aloof disinterest to, well, being an asshole. It can become an obstacle to the sort of organic networking that actually does help find a job. There’s a good middle course that’s authentic and organic, but not overly walled-off.

      6. LBK*

        I didn’t take it that way at all. I would also describe myself as someone who doesn’t do especially well in performative social situations, by which I mean I’m bad at forming the kind of quick bonds you’d expect to make at a networking event like a conference or something. I have pretty strong social anxiety so I’m bad at forming a good, lasting first impression with someone purely on the foundation of spontaneous conversation at a cocktail hour or something like that. I do much better when we get to know each other more naturally over the course of working together on something or sharing an experience together – so when I have to try to make a connection with someone in 10 minutes, that is a performance for me, because it’s not a natural part of my personality.

      7. Marillenbaum*

        I mean, it’s where my mind went, so at least you’re not alone? I’m fully willing to cop to being judgy, though.

      8. Mananana*

        I had the same reaction, Snark. I found that sentence oddly off-putting; it read to me as very condescending.

        1. LBK*

          I think you’re reading it backwards – it’s a self-deprecating comment about the OP’s inability to perform in those situations (eg make cold introductions to strangers, carry on small talk conversation, etc), not a knock against the people doing it.

          1. Mananana*

            It’s quite possible I’m wrong about the intent; in fact, I hope I am wrong. You nailed how it felt to me though: as a knock against those who play well with others in social situations.

        2. Snark*

          I didn’t see it as condescending, it just struck me that it’s easy to get grumpy and misanthropic about having to perform, to the point that it feels like an imposition just to put oneself out there.

          1. Marillenbaum*

            See also: teenage me feeling Aggrieved at not getting to wear flip-flops to church, child me feeling Aggrieved that I wasn’t allowed to just bring a book to a party and actually had to interact with people.

          2. anony*

            Yeah, I think that’s part of it. The nature of work is that we have to perform – our work personas are not who we truly are. If networking is that much of a leap for you, you’re not required to do it, but it’s really not an imposition either.

            1. LBK*

              I said something similar below, but being performative is about adding on beyond your natural persona – it’s not the same as having a “work persona,” which is generally about subtracting the parts of your natural persona that aren’t work-appropriate.

              It’s why naturally quiet people don’t generally gravitate towards sales – because it’s much easier to refine a work persona out of your natural persona that’s still some version of you than it is to perform a completely different work persona that includes elements the real you doesn’t have.

              1. anony*

                I suppose we disagree, then. I certainly think adding on to your natural persona can be necessary for work… for instance, if someone is really blunt and brief, obviously you can’t always be that way with your boss. I think in terms of networking, it certainly isn’t necessary, since obviously you can survive without it.

                1. LBK*

                  I think part of this is also very specific to people with social anxiety; refining the way I speak doesn’t require the same level of effort as carrying on a small talk conversation does for me. If this isn’t a problem you have then I don’t know how else to explain it to you.

                2. anony*

                  I think this has to do with your personal situation more than I can understand from this format, and I’m sorry for hear you have trouble with social anxiety. We ultimately live in a world that assumes and functions as if people don’t have social anxiety. The fact that some people have difficulty with things doesn’t change what is expected, which I think is unfortunate.

              2. ainomiaka*

                I fundamentally disagree that having a work persona is different from performative. I make a work persona that’s reasonably easy and not terrible to perform (as in perform an action or do) every day. It’s not 100% fake-it’s made out of me-but it’s for sure a performance.

                1. Someone else*

                  I think it depends. It may be performative for you, but I’d bet for plenty it isn’t. I have a “with my childhood friends” persona and a “work persona” and a “with my relatives persona” and none of them are at all performative, and there may be some overlap in how I’d behave in certain situations between them, but they’re also conspicuously distinct. For you, your work-persona may be different enough from any of your other modes that it feels performative, but for me it’s more like compartmentalized versions of myself. But it happens automatically and is no more performative for me than how I might ever consider my word choice before speaking depending on exactly who I’m directed the thought to.

      9. anony*

        Yeah, I’ll admit my mind wondered that as well. All the people I’ve known who talk about how “hard” it is to act the “way they’re supposed to” turned out to be assholes, so that pinged me a bit. You know, the sort who just are jerks, and are annoyed that the world expects them to act otherwise.

        I tried to not look at it that way, because I think people have really different notions of networking, as we’re seeing in the comments. It’s not necessarily meant to be some super intense connection, just a genuine “oh we know each other and enjoyed a conversation or two.” But I think being able to happily converse with people is a much more reasonable expectation than being their BFF.

        I guess I can’t quite understand how having a conversation with someone is “overly performative” – the reality is we’re different people at work than we are at home. I suspect part of this is likely because OP is still a student, and hasn’t really had to experience that too much yet.

        Or well, maybe they don’t enjoy helping people? I’m always happy to give a reference or do an alumni interview, so it doesn’t really feel like some huge downside.

        1. LBK*

          I tried to not look at it that way, because I think people have really different notions of networking, as we’re seeing in the comments. It’s not necessarily meant to be some super intense connection, just a genuine “oh we know each other and enjoyed a conversation or two.” But I think being able to happily converse with people is a much more reasonable expectation than being their BFF.

          I guess this is the part I don’t quite understand. If you don’t expect a networking connection to be any more than basically just exchanging names, where you work and what you do, how on earth is that a strong enough connection to leverage as part of your network? Calling that a “network” seems like a stretch. You can get that much info off their LinkedIn.

          1. anony*

            I would say that in general a conversation is more than just exchanging names and job titles, so I’m not really sure where you got that from.

            1. LBK*

              Because anything more than that is where it starts to get performative for me. Small talk is performative.

              1. anony*

                But isn’t a lot of work performative? I’m not sure I understand where “overly” performative comes in, and perhaps that’s just the confusion here. I’m certainly keeping up my “professional” persona most of the time I’m at work, because outside of work I’ve actually lived an alternative lifestyle. To me, small talk seems within the range of standard work stuff. Just like when they say, “how was your weekend” I don’t bring up the 20 person orgy or sex dungeon.

                As I said initially though, if it’s too uncomfortable for you, there’s no reason to do it! People survive and have great careers though without networking, and obviously it doesn’t say anything about you as a person.

                1. LBK*

                  It’s different because it doesn’t require the same kind of energy to stay silent when you have something you could say as it does to speak when you don’t have anything to say. At least for me, saying nothing is easy and comes naturally. Filling silence when I don’t naturally have something I want to say is excruciating and exhausting.

        2. Cobol*

          RE: I guess I can’t quite understand how having a conversation with someone is “overly performative”
          There’s a whole thread of people trying to explain it to you.

          I don’t want to assume, but you come across as judging people for being different.

          1. anony*

            I think you misunderstood me, and came across unnecessarily hostile! I’m not sure why you’re taking this so personally, because obviously I don’t even know you. The reality is that different isn’t always good (some people are jerks, and that’s different and bad), but I’m not trying to judge anyone here, and in fact trying not to.

            My point was, I don’t quite see how it’s more performative than anything else done at work – we always bring our “professional” persona to things, it’s the nature of work.

            Anyway, I hope you have a great day.

          2. Marillenbaum*

            I mean, we basically all do that, though. We have our windows of “acceptable difference” and we judge people who fall outside of those parameters. For instance, here, the “we’re like faaaaamily” work colleagues fall outside that window for most of the commentariat. There’s also a group of people who think seeing conversation as “overly performative” (with its connotations of being unduly onerous) puts you outside of that window. NBD.

        3. bb-great*

          “the reality is we’re different people at work than we are at home. I suspect part of this is likely because OP is still a student, and hasn’t really had to experience that too much yet.”

          I think this is definitely at least part of it. Transitioning from college to the workplace means accepting that you have to present and conduct yourself in certain work-appropriate ways. For me and I suspect many others this definitely felt like being fake at first.

          Eventually I realized I’m still the same person even if I have to wear nice pants or whatever, so my sense of self got much less tied up in being able to do exactly what I want at any given time. Also as I get older I’m much less stubborn about doing things a certain way on principle, if doing them an alternate way won’t affect me too much and will get the desired effect.

  12. KHB*

    For what it’s worth: I once took part in a panel discussion at my old grad school on alternative science careers. (I’m in writing/editing, there was someone who worked in a museum, and two other people who I think were in different parts of the policy arena.) One question we were asked was to what extent we’d gotten our jobs through networking. I think all four of us answered “not at all.”

    I know that’s a limited data set, but it’s certainly possible to make a good career for yourself just by applying to jobs you see listed in job ads.

    1. Murphy*

      Agreed! I’m not big on networking either (mostly because I’m socially anxious). A few years ago when I was job searching, I had an acquaintance repeatedly tell me that it’s all networking, you have to know somebody, and nobody gets their jobs by just applying to job applications. How did I get my job? I applied online without knowing anybody there.

      On the other hand, my husband got his job because he was recommended for it by somebody he used to work with who had moved to a different company. No schmoozing necessary, he just formed a good working relationship with a co-worker, who thought of him when a job opened up.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        I heard that advice so many times! When I was job-hunting, people would say, “don’t send your resume to HR unless you want to work in HR.” They said it so many times, I honestly considered a career change from software engineering to human resources, just because I couldn’t imagine getting to a place where I could always call someone in my network and tell them I wanted to work with them, and they would find room for me. And I don’t think most people ever get to that point! But there’s so much bad career advice out there that makes it sound like being THAT well-connected is the only way not to starve and die.

      2. Safetykats*

        And networking doesn’t always include a recommendation. Sometimes it just means a heads-up on a job posting you wouldn’t otherwise have seen, or a short discussion about what it’s like to work somewhere in particular, which might give you some insight into how to handle an interview, or might get you thinking about a possibility you hadn’t formerly considered. I have a lot of former coworkers who are job searching just now, and while I’ve helped a few with recommendations most are just reaching out to ask if I know of any opportunities. If I do I pass them along. Those people still have to apply for and get the job on their own merits – which is usually the case – but it certainly helps to know any it the job opening in the first place.

    2. neverjaunty*

      But networking isn’t just about applying for jobs; it’s about professional connections. It absolutely is the case that “die in poverty” is not the only alternative too networking, but it’s helpful as more than a replacement for want ads.

      1. KHB*

        Of course. My comment was meant more as a specific response to the sort of panic Murphy describes above (and which I see coming across in the letter) – people hear things like “only X% of jobs are ever advertised” or “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” and they think that if they’re not out there schmoozing nonstop, there’s no hope for them. But that’s just not true.

    3. AnotherAlison*

      That makes some sense to me, since you may not have known people in the industry you were moving into if you came from a more traditional science background.

      With my duration in my specific industry, though, I think it would be weird if I could not at least do a six-degrees-of-separation to connect me to someone in another company. You might apply online with no connections, but behind the scenes, Joe is talking to Sam who worked at Competitor at the same time you did to see if he knows you. There are only a handful of competitors at the same level as us, and we all work for the same clients.

    4. Specialk9*

      Good point. I’ve gotten all my jobs initially by cold applying.

      Then I’ve moved within the organization (like new projects in consulting, or an internal transfer) based on relationships I built organically by working together.

      I also stay in touch with a particular recruiter in my field who asked such damn good questions (about a job I didn’t take) about what’s a niche poorly understood field, that I made sure to connect with her and stay connected loosely (I follow her on LinkedIn, go to her sessions at industry conferences, congratulate her on new jobs and email her very occasionally.)

      So yeah, just applying can work great too.

    5. Lindsay J*

      Yeah. Maybe it’s because I’m relatively early/mid career, but I don’t know anybody who has gotten their job from networking. It’s all just been blind applying.

      I also wonder if many of the jobs gotten by networking are more in the range of “someone in my network forwarded me this job ad at a 3rd company because they thought it fit my skill-set, and so I applied and was hired” which seems more realistic than, “I got this job because I was the CEO’s roommate in college and so didn’t have to apply and the job was never even posted and nobody else ever had a chance” which is the scenario I think most envision when they hear someone got a job through networking.

  13. Stella Maris*

    I find it helps to flip the situation around:

    Imagine if an incoming student contacted you to ask about your experiences in your major, or with a particular class or professor. You’d likely enjoy hearing about their background and talking about your experiences. You might keep in touch and send them scholarship announcements or club/activities in relevant fields.

    That’s essentially what real, non-smarmy networking is. Asking genuine questions of people who have experiences you’re interested in, and making a connection so that they’ll think of you when something relevant pops up. Whenever I feel particularly awkward about asking for an informational interview, I picture myself in the other person’s place and realize that I wouldn’t feel like its a burden to connect with someone looking to expand their network.

    1. Cici*

      Second This :-) Don’t look at it as mooching off of other people. You have valuable skills to offer, and can help to uplift others over the years in your career. And though networking was a huge part of how I got my current position, I also got it because I had something important my company needed me to bring to the table. Networking can be a way to get you an introduction, but unless you’ve got what the company needs, it’s not like networking can “get you” a job – it can get your resume higher in a stack.

  14. aebhel*

    Oh, man, OP, do I feel you here. This is the kind of thing I could easily have written ten years ago.

    At 32, pretty well-established in a professional job that I only have because of networking, I still hate talking to people and rarely seek out social connections with strangers that I don’t have much in common with. ‘Networking’ doesn’t have to be a faking high-energy extroversion thing; I got my current job as a librarian because I was working as a library clerk in another local library, and mentioned to my boss that I’d be interested in applying for this job if it was still open when I finished my MLS. He liked my work and knew that my focus of study was relevent, so he recommended me to the hiring manager. That’s networking. One of my pages is a library science student, and she sits down and talks to me and the other librarians about what our jobs are like and what recommendations we have for advancing in the field; that’s networking. I go to conferences and talk to other librarians about new developments in the field and potential partnerships; that’s networking. None of this requires you to be a particularly outgoing person, which is good because I’m not. But I’m in this field because I’m interested in it, so I can usually find something to talk about with my colleagues, and I value having positive working relationships, and honestly that amounts to quite a bit.

    1. LouiseM*

      Great examples, aebhel. I’m in the industry too and I agree that networking is super important–which people might not guess, since librarians have such a reputation for introversion. But for me personally, I’ve found it’s helpful to just remove the word “networking” from my mental vocabulary. When I find out an old colleague got a plum new role and reach out over email or facebook to congratulate her (even if we haven’t spoken in years), am I networking? Actually, yes, because I’m renewing a contact with someone who could, one day, end up being professionally useful to me. But I just think of it as reaching out to an old friend and it feels much more natural.

    2. Librarygal30*

      It’s nice to see another librarian! What type of library do you work in? I’m a solo academic librarian for a very small university in CA.

      1. aebhel*

        I’m an adult services librarian (so I handle all of the programming and purchasing for adult materials) for a mid-sized public library in NY.

        I actually always thought that academic librarianship would be really cool (I love doing reference, and there’s not as much of that at a public library), but the only colleges in my area are huge research institutions that want subject specialist librarians, and I am NOT going to go get another Master’s degree, lol.

  15. Betsy*

    I agree with the conference suggestion. I used to feel a lot like you about it and tried to force myself to talk to people at conferences. However, one conference I ended up making two good friends in the same state, who I was friends with for years until I moved away and an interesting friend from the UK who has been a hilarious facebook friend for years now. A superstar in the field came up to me afterwards and gave me some advice about my research. Of course there were also some garden-variety jerks there, but overall I have very good memories and that’s the conference that really changed my attitude to networking.

    I also think it’s not worth being fake nice to people you don’t like just for the sake of it. At least not for me, because I end up having to fob them off later if they invite me to an event or something. I’m also not good at fake, and I know the fake niceness would slip eventually, and I don’t want to risk that. Generally, I seem to meet enough people I feel pleasant enough about to do some honest networking, and you can always politely leave a conversation if they’re droning on and on, or dull, or not someone you want to talk to.

  16. V*

    It depends on your field, but joining an industry organization – one where you see and interact with the same people on a somewhat regular basis – can be a great way to build your network. And volunteering for the organization can get your name out in front of people such that they will know who you are. It’s very similar to joining a club at college; over time you get to know the other members, and you probably know the members with leadship roles and those who volunteered their time to the club more than those who just came to a few events but didn’t engage with people. Getting to know the people in your club IS networking, whether it is at college, or in an industry group.

    1. Cassandra*

      Absolutely. As you are still a student, OP, take advantage of student-priced memberships and event fees.

      As you consider helping out, don’t be shy about it — organizations are perpetually volunteer-hungry, and you can develop a wonderful reputation quickly. If you are a highly task- or results-oriented person (as I am, so I am speaking from experience), contributing to the organization can silence the little inner voice insisting that “networking” is nothing but value-free schmoozing. It really can involve wins all around!

      Another reason to help out is that in many organizations you can punch above your weight — for example, chairing a committee early on in your career before an actual employer would be likely to take a chance on you as a manager. Such experiences tend to be good interview fodder when you’re ready to hunt a promotion.

    2. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      And this applies even once you’re out of school. This afternoon I sent an email introducing the leader of a local volunteer professional association I’m a member of to a relative who knows someone who would really benefit from partnering with a group like this association. And I’m in the middle of figuring a date and time to meet with someone else from the same association who I had a really excellent conversation with at a meetup last month.

      That doesn’t mean I find this easy, mind you. I’ve been overthinking both connections, and worrying that I’m going to say the wrong thing and completely embarrass myself. Probably a completely baseless worry, but there it is. I keep up with it because I can see the long term benefits, not just for myself, but for a couple of worthwhile organizations and some professional colleagues.

  17. Dorae*

    Hah! I have a super relevant story. My ex-boss is starting a new company and urgently needs a starter communications professional with certain qualifications. So I reached out to an old intern with those qualifications who was actually just looking around for a new job. And just like that arranged a first interview. I recommended both very much to each other, so if the interest is mutual my old intern will have her second job (great step up) and my ex-boss will have a competent comms professional.

    Does that sound icky? I personally find it more wholesome. It’s nice if we can lend each other a hand to move through life.

  18. SM*

    Something that struck me is you write like your expected to be good friends with these people, which isn’t the case. Quite a few people in my network aren’t people I’d consider “friends” in the college sense. They aren’t people I’d ask to go to a movie or bar with. But they are people who are pleasant to talk to, who I admire because of the work they do, and if I ran into them at an event I would gladly spend some time catching up with them. It’s not really about making friends, but about making acquaintances. And it’s not just because you’re expecting something out of them in the future, it’s about forming mutually beneficial connections with people you genuinely enjoy.

    1. LouiseM*

      Great point. Sometimes it can be difficult for people coming out of colleges to recalibrate their idea of “friendship.” There are life-friends and there are work-friends, which are only occasionally the same thing. And that’s perfectly ok!

      1. Snark*

        And even on the work-friend continuum, there’s “I periodically have coffee with this person and know their spouse’s name” and there’s “I worked on a project with them five years ago and it went well,” and both ends of that spectrum are 100% viable networking contacts. It even necessarily need to be an active and maintained relationship.

  19. mAd Woman*

    When I got started, it was easier to think of networking as making professional friends. It’s a similar relationship – maybe you help each other out from time to time, but mostly you maintain a positive relationship through conversation, saying hello at events, etc.

  20. Laura in NJ*

    “Do you have a difficulty “liking” people in general?”
    That’s one of the reasons why I’m not into networking. I find it very hard to like people because I don’t care about 99.99% of what people like (TV shows, movies, etc.). Also, I just can’t trust people at all; if I ever try to network with anyone, I’ll be spending the vast majority of my time wondering if they’re even doing what I asked them to do and also wondering what their real motivation is for helping me find a job.

    Also, Alison’s answer makes me want to network ever less now.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      People are far more varied than you think, though. Lots of people like TV and movies. Lots of people (some of whom are the same people) love soccer, rescuing dogs, anti-racism activism, learning the ancestral languages of their parents, classic cars, salsa dancing, motorcycling, DIY home renovation (… these are the interests of the people who sit near me at work), etc.

    2. Snark*

      That’s…..an unfortunate way to relate to people, and I say that as an introverted person who is not into what most people are into.

    3. LQ*

      I don’t have a lot of friends. I don’t enjoy most people. But I do enjoy my work. And I enjoy thinking about, doing, and even sometimes talking about my work. I’m not marrying these people, they aren’t going to be my 3rd friends. They are just people who I have something (work) in common with and and our relationship centers around that. It also helps to not think of it as something people are doing for me, but something I am doing for them. If I say I’m going to do something, I do it. So that part is successful. When and if anything happens on their end, great. But I’m not going to count those chickens. But I do want to be helpful to others, support them, and I want my field to improve, so I need to do my part for that. Even if I can’t change everyone else because they are all the worst.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I feel similarly. I’m not up for girls night out or talking to friends who have a more involved parenting style than me, but I do like to talk to other work-minded people (hence hanging out on AAM).

    4. Specialk9*

      Laura, you seem to be stereotyping people in the harshest possible way, *in order* to justify pushing them away. If you can afford it, could you talk to a therapist about why you do that and how to build a healthier relationship with the world? Because it seems like you’re pouring poison everywhere and then wondering why life is always full of so damn many dead rats.

    5. SpaceNovice*

      The thing is that networking wouldn’t be necessarily about TV shows, movies, or other forms of entertainment. It’d be about the industry that you’re in. It’s okay to not be into those things. People are wide and varied, though, especially more so after you become an adult and your peer group ages span decades.

      Also, people want to help others find a job for two reasons: because they want to see good things happen to good people and they want to work with good people. Any referral bonus is just that, a bonus. Most people won’t risk turning their job environment toxic for money. People that are industry friends will only recruit other people that they trust, or if they’re in a bad environment, they’ll ask people they trust for help getting out. I’ve got people who have known each other for a decade or more in my office, and they will refer the other when they’ve found a good work situation.

      As for not liking or trusting people–that is something you need to give a hard, introspective look to try and understand. The majority of people are good overall, even though all you hear is horrible stories on the news. I’ve found my view has been really helped out by reading Good News Network and Sunny Skyz News. Good people exist; they just make what people think is boring news.

    6. LBK*

      While this is harshly worded, I’m kinda with you on this one – there seems to be a lot of conflicting advice here about how networking isn’t meant to be a deep connection, or how you really just need to have a few conversations, but it’s not fake or schmoozy or slimy. That feels like a contradiction to me; either you establish a genuine connection built on trust where you’re comfortable leveraging this person for favors and having them do the same, or you establish a superficial connection where you both understand that it’s pretty much nothing more than a quid pro quo.

      I’m certainly not going to stake my professional reputation on someone who I had 15 minutes of small talk with, no matter how pleasant it is – but if you’re saying I shouldn’t do that, then you are saying that it should be a stronger connection than someone I just had a few conversations with.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        I think for a lot of people here, the threshold for “I feel comfortable doing a favor for this person or asking for the same” is just lower. That doesn’t mean I’d stake my professional reputation on recommending them for a job, but it might mean telling them the position is open in case they aren’t aware of it. Not every member of someone’s network is of equal value or intensity. Some people are “trade industry chat at a conference” members, some are “let me get an objective perspective on Workplace Thing” people, and some are “Recommend you for a job” people; in much the same way that I have different tiers of friendship and favors I’m willing to do (though NONE of those tiers extend to helping you move).

        1. LBK*

          I guess this is the piece that I feel has been missing from the conversation – there seem to be multiple versions of networking being described throughout all the comments, but nothing connecting them all as equally valid forms of networking, just with different strengths of connections. It’s felt to me like where each person has their definition of what “networking” entails, it’s the same type of bond for everyone in the network. It makes a lot more sense to me that someone you’ve worked with for 10 years and someone you met for 10 minutes at a conference are equally part of your network, just in different ways.

  21. TootsNYC*

    I once was told to send my resume to a division head that a friend of mine knew.
    So I did–but I felt weird about it. I’d heard that networking was supposed to be an even exchange of info, and I was too far down the totem pole to be at all useful.

    However, that division head called me in to meet with her, and looked over my resume, and quizzed me about my experience and skills.

    At the end, she said this: “Thank you for coming in. Now I know more about you, and it is valuable to me to know who is working in our field and what their skills are. I never know when it will be useful to me, to be able to refer people for jobs, or to tap people for openings that haven’t arisen yet.”

    It made me realize–and I’ve seen this to be true as I’ve risen in my field–that what the non-job-seeker gets out of it is valuable information!

    I’ve also noticed my own and my friends’ reactions when someone calls to say, “I know we haven’t been in touch for a couple of years, but I’m looking for work.” Everyone I know has said, “Oh, bummer that you got laid off / aren’t happy. Let me know if I can think of anything. Send me your resume.” Not a single person has been upset–because we’ve all been there.

    The ONLY time it’s been a negative reaction is when you don’t much admire the person who’s calling, or if they’re asking for something way out of line.

  22. Guacamole Bob*

    In my experience, networking happens much more easily if you have a strong sense of your career path, interests, and/or goals. I came out of college pretty aimless and found it very difficult to network – I knew I was supposed to, but didn’t really know how or with who or why. But after a while I found my footing, went back to grad school, found a niche within a specific field, and now networking comes very naturally.

    I don’t do much intentional networking for its own sake, but thinking about it I do a lot of networking:
    – I talked to a couple of alumni from my program when I started my job search to learn about my industry in my new city.
    – When my agency was hiring recently I was able to circulate the job description pretty widely in my network and talk to a few people who had questions about the job.
    – When my agency started exploring a new way of running our teapot program I was able to ask someone who works in a similar job in another city how their way of doing it was working out.
    – I recently had lunch with a high school student interested in getting into my field, who I met because his father knows my wife’s college roommate.
    – When I go to conferences and industry receptions it’s easy to talk to people and I sometimes follow up with presenters about their work if it relates to what I do. A couple of them have come in to my agency to give presentations to people who couldn’t make it to the conference.

    Now that I’m confident in my own knowledge and value and I’m clearer on what sort of things I might want from people or be able to offer them. And my contacts are now mostly my industry’s equivalent of teapot lit fit testing nerds and the shared interest in the niche field makes genuine connection feel natural.

  23. puzzld*

    I absolutely got two jobs via the “who you know route” My first job out of college I was hire by a woman who’d found herself in dire need of help… She remembered her mechanic saying his daughter was a recent grad looking for work in her field. She called and I was hired.

    A few years later my Mom heard of an opening at our local university. Told a friend mine about the job. She got it. Several years later her boss was looking to fill a position. Invited me to lunch and made me an offer. I had no idea we were networking. :)

  24. Opuntia*

    I’m with you that the idea of forming social connections just for personal gain is really slimy. I’m in a field that depends heavily on networking, though, and the solution I’ve come to is to only seek out people I genuinely like. That way, networking isn’t a chore so much as hanging out with work friends, and also, I’m not filling my network with people I don’t fully endorse on a personal level. Win-win!

  25. AudreyParker*

    I’ve realized that I’m good at networking for other people, terrible at doing so for myself. But it really is just about being interested in what other people are doing, establishing some kind of basic connection, and then maybe some day one of you will be in a position to help the other. And can be informal, too, as some other responses have mentioned. I participated in a speed networking thing through my college alumni group that was totally useless at my end, but met a recent grad who seemed cool and I was able to ask a friend of a friend if she’d be open to at least being contacted for an informational interview. (Hopefully that worked out well for the other alum!) All pretty low key, but ultimately the possibility of expanding someone’s opportunities. At previous jobs I’ve also needed to bring people in occasionally for very specialized work, and several times knowing people who knew people saved my project. Of course, my own job search isn’t working out that way for various reasons, but depending on what you do, having personal connections can often be helpful both in searching and in performing your job.

  26. Susan Sto Helit*

    I think it’s a mistake to think of networking as making and maintaining forced connections with ‘people you don’t actually like’, for a start. How do you know you don’t like them? And if you don’t like them, why would some sort of forced connection be of value to you?

    Try not to think of networking as social climbing. Think of it more as a support network.

    In my industry, the nearest big city had a group specially aimed at young people who were looking to get into the industry, or advance their careers within it. It put on events that would be of interest to those type of people, and looked for volunteers for its committee.

    I joined it. And you know what? I made friends. Really, really great friends. I went to the wedding of one of them just a couple of weeks ago. I joined that committee. I commiserated with my peers when they were struggling in their jobs, and cheered with them when they had successes. I went to their events, where leaders in the industry would show up as speakers, keen to help the next generation, and I met those people too. And I ‘networked’. You know what networking is? Talking to people. You know who shows up to speak at events designed to help young people in their careers? Kind, interesting people. The sort of people you should want to talk to – that you should be thrilled to talk to. And who might, actually, care about the fact that they might be in a position to one day help you.

    Maybe my industry is a particularly nice industry. Maybe networking for a lot of other jobs is a lot shittier. But do try to seek out those young peoples’ groups nevertheless. They just might be pretty great.

  27. FabricFairy*

    I definitely feel this letter writer, but what I have discovered is that a lot of networking is just not burning bridges when you leave a job/internship/etc. That doesn’t have to mean staying in super close contact, just not giving everyone the middle finger as you walk out the door. Unless it was an especially horrid job or you left on bad terms or weren’t there long enough for anyone to remember you, most former coworkers or peers or bosses won’t mind if you reach out later with a genuine ‘how are you?’ Followed by a ‘hey, you were a great llama wrangler, can i get some advice about the best rope for llama lassos?’ Or ‘I’m looking for a job in llama wrangling, you wouldn’t happen to know of any opportunities would you?’

    Sometimes networking opportunities pop up in unexpected places. When I was starting my small business, a casual conversation with my chiropractor about what I do for a living led to him pointing me towards tons of resources and offering advice. My boyfriend found his current job because his best friend’s brother was in the same field. Since starting my business, I’ve made a lot of connections just by talking to people, not with a goal of networking in mind, but just casual conversations that lead to “oh, I know someone who does (related field/same field/helpful service), let me give you/them their/your number!”

    I used to be terrified of networking, but it seems like most of my networking has happened when I wasn’t trying to network. If you force it, it’s probably going to feel slimy. If you just start with trying to make natural social connections, it seems to happen more organically and doesn’t feel as weird. And I say this as someone who really really struggled with social skills. Hope some of this helps.

    1. epi*

      I really agree with all of this. I am apparently great at networking because I haven’t had to apply for a job in about four years– people have just come to me and offered me work and I said yes. Yet I almost never go to networking events. I just do my job and when I go to conferences or talks, I go the parts with content. Do a good job, be reasonably friendly while you are there, and leave on good terms. Give a compliment or ask a question at a talk if you actually feel like it, and not otherwise.

    2. 12345*

      Exactly! I think a lot of people would be surprised to learn they 1) already have a network, and 2) how big that network is. Yes, even for introverts, and for socially awkward, and for people that don’t “do” small talk.

  28. Another Kate*

    I struggled with this early in my career too. What helped was thinking about it not as “networking” but as “maintaining professional friendships”. Any friendship requires effort and attention, you need to put the same into professional relationships as well. It just means that I’ll make friendly small talk and check in to see how people are doing with people that I like and respect in my field. “Saw you moved jobs, how are you liking the new company?” “Hey, check out this article, wouldn’t this have been good to know before we worked on that awful project together!” So many opportunities can come out of just staying in touch with people and to me that doesn’t feel slimy at all!

    1. Secret Keeper*

      Yes! I’m an academic librarian and I’m professionally friendly with librarians around the country. Mind you, this took a decade to build, and at first I knew NO ONE. But Mr. Keeper is regularly astounded by how widespread my network is now. Almost everywhere we travel, I know a librarian who would like to grab a drink, give me the inside scoop on the locale, or in an emergency, would try and help.

  29. Hesitant Networker Too*

    What helped for me was joining a social group related to the field I’m interested in. I made so many friends – friends that work in the industry I want to be involved in. Another option is volunteering. That way you’re meeting people you genuinely are interested in having a social connection with, where you have a common bond, but you’re also forming professional relationships for the future. Make it fun!

  30. Tanglewater*

    I had a professor once tell me that writing recommendations letters and advising was part of their job and so I shouldn’t feel like it’s an intrusion. Later as an academic, I kept this in mind.

  31. Not good at the schmooze*

    OP, I think a lot of people think of networking as going to industry events and schmoozing. It was shoved down my throat as a senior in college and really made me uncomfortable, especially as a PR major. However, when I think about my previous jobs and opportunities – I have gotten them all through networking. But before that makes you anxious, let me expand. I got an internship in college through an alumni/student mentoring program. My first job out of college was in a different state but the corporate HQ was in my hometown and I had previously volunteered with one of the hiring manager’s kids. From there, my boss from my internship recruited me to the new company they had just started working for and had an open position. Next was a contract position with an HR person who I partnered with on a project at previous role. Then it was a previous coworker at the same level who referred me to their company. And currently, a person 10 years my junior referred me to her department VP and I have a third interview next week. (I work in commodities so some of the job hopping is due to layoffs).

    But what I want to say is my version of “networking” has been a result of making impactful connections in my professional roles. Sure, I participate in some industry groups but I go to drink the wine and listen to panels. It’s much more enjoyable. I follow up with a coffee date if I happen to meet someone who has similar interests and we have a connection. Of course, you need that first step into the professional role but have a good resume and do some extracurricular that actually interest you. The people around you already can be your network. My dog walker works from home and happens to be a recruiter for a major nationwide company. One of my neighbors is the CEO of a huge women’s small business group. My family doesn’t have connections nor do I thrive at schmoozing but I’ve had some great opportunities from unexpected sources.

  32. bb-great*

    OP, just a few bullet points:

    – Networking contacts don’t need to be your best friends. They don’t need to be social friends at all, really, just someone whose ideas/advice/input/career interests you and who feels similarly about talking to you.
    – Not everyone you meet at work or conferences needs to become an ongoing contact.
    – Definitely do not just try to cultivate contact with the most influential/powerful person in the room. That *is* slimy and fake, and also useless, because the relationship is based on nothing. The best contacts are people you’ve worked with, who have mutual respect, and who you find interesting, as I said above.
    – Your network will grow naturally. I’m only a few years out of school but I now know a handful of people from internships, jobs, and conferences, etc. whom I could ask for advice. None of whom I intentionally sought out, I just came into contact with them through the course of my work.
    – The importance of networking depends greatly on the field. If you feel this way about networking, don’t go into a field that relies heavily on making connections with people who are otherwise strangers.

    In short, networking can be “keeping in touch periodically with people I’ve met through work,” not “working the room to get a leg up.”

  33. MuseumChick*

    OP I completely understand this feeling. I hate the idea of networking for just the reason Alison stated, I’ve seen it done by such slimy people so often it’s left a really bad taste in my mouth.

    That being said I literally just had an opportunity to network that was not slimy at all and think is a good demonstration of how it can be done. Very randomly I meet a board member for a museum in a different state that works with similar objects to my museum. Basically we both display Chocolate Teapots but their museum also has Raspberry and Strawberry Teapots as well as some Coffee Pots. The board member gave me the name of the person who is in a similar role to what I do at my museum so I send them a quick email introducing myself and explaining that I had meet this board member and their museum looking really interesting to me so I wanted to introduce myself.

  34. SpaceNovice*

    Networking is kind of a side-effect of doing things like going to talks and conferences, working, attending events, and going to thinks like local Meetups related to your field. They’re not the primary goal, really, and the primary goal isn’t to get a job–it’s the knowledge and experience that helps you grow skills that will be needed in a job. People who see you working towards gaining knowledge/experience/skills will be more likely to want to connect to you. You don’t want to force a connection because rapport is important; you don’t want to work with someone you can’t get along with, and they don’t want to work with someone that’s very obviously attempting to use them.

    If you’re getting along with someone, you can usually ask a beginner question related to whatever you’re both doing at that moment and they’ll be happy to answer as long as it’s a short explanation. A question that’s more involved might be better answered by asking for resources (what sort of stuff do you read to keep up to date? podcasts? journals?). The presentations for a lot of talks will list resources you can look at sometimes, too! People like to be helpful, and people know what it’s like to start out. You probably won’t get a job out of this directly, but indirectly you’ll learn more about the companies and industry around you so that you can be prepared to be a better fit.

    As for sending people links to articles, TED Talks, etc, it’s not to prove that you’re knowledgeable so much as acknowledging a thing they have expressed interest in. A personal interest. But don’t link them to every old article related to their interests, because they’ll have seen a lot of them already, so it’ll feel artificial. It’s more of a case of you immediately thinking of them when you read something and suspecting they might not see it otherwise. Something that helps them rather than being an attempt to prove your worth. In cases where you know they’ve liked read something, and you’re interested in their opinion and know it won’t bother them, you can ask about it.

    Basically, you want to find the like-minded part of your industry. Like-minded people are more likely to share knowledge and enjoy bettering both you and themselves, not to mention notice that you’re trying to improve yourself without taking away from others. There’s nothing cooler than watching your mentee (even if it’s only for a few seconds/minutes) use the knowledge you shared with them to thrive. It’s a very positive feedback loop that helps both people.

    Also, since you’re younger, some of your mentors might eventually ask you questions about your generation since the knowledge eludes them if you’re closer in age to their children. The questions might be slightly insulting because they don’t know enough to frame them right, but it means they trust that you’ll tell them the truth and not laugh at them. You don’t have to answer the questions if you don’t feel comfortable or know you don’t have enough knowledge (or you can direct them to resources). You don’t need to answer every detail but should try to give them enough to make them think like they give you their knowledge to make you think; again, only if you’re comfortable with it.

    Sometimes, though, you just get the hilarious (sometimes horribly embarrassing) experience of explaining an internet meme to someone with three decades of industry knowledge and well respected in their field. Like TreeGate. (Don’t google that one at work, around small children, or if you need to be anywhere anytime soon.)

  35. snowed in!*

    The thing about networking is that you can’t do it when you don’t have a network. In 2008 and onwards, I got told constantly I had to network. I went to networking events. I joined networking groups. And every single person in there was trying to use everyone else there to get them a job. I was supposed to work my network, but I didn’t know anyone, and when it came to “ask your friends’s parents”, that was negative amounts of help.

    I’ve now been in my job for a while. People have come and gone. I’ve kept in touch with some of them. Sometimes people forward me job notifications. Sometimes I forward them on to other people. If someone contacted me, I’d have information for them. I know which folks to contact if I need help.

    The difference between now and 10 years ago isn’t that I’m magically better at social interaction and can get people to do things for me. It’s that I now have professional relationships with people in my area of expertise, and they know my expertise, and I know theirs.

    (And, generally? We hire nobody through networking alone. Networking lets people know there are openings available or coming soon. But people who network and people who subscribe to our jobs site have equal chance of getting hired. Networking is not a leg up on the competition, it just lets you know more.)

  36. LouiseM*

    OP, I totally felt the same as you, and still do. Especially because I just hate using LinkedIn. But here’s my tip: do it anyway. You don’t have to post anything yourself, you don’t have to read your feed religiously, you don’t need to prowl around for potential connections. But when you meet someone of professional interest to you, add them as a connection. It’s basically our generation’s version of having a rolodex–telling us who we know where. For that reason alone, it’s worth it. Best of luck to you!

  37. cleo*

    I remember learning about networking in high school (many years ago) and thinking quite clearly, “well if that’s what it takes to be successful, I’m just not going to be successful.”

    In grad school, I helped an acquaintance get a job (my professor was looking for someone to teach a class in a particular software that someone at my internship had taught and I connected them) – I realized that I’d just networked, and it came easily. I was so surprised to discover that networking isn’t at all what I imagined it to be – it truly is just making and keeping in touch with work friends. And sharing information. Some people develop their networks more than others, of course, but that’s the essence of it.

  38. Tipcat*

    Don’t forget to network within your company. If it’s very large, having contacts in other departments or division can be very useful. In some companies there is a network of people who are competent, who can get things done, and who can straighten out problems. A connection with them improves your productivity and general quality of work life.

  39. Pam*

    Linking it to college- let’s say you’re a member of the teapot club, maybe a student officer. Club members graduating this year will be employed at various companies next year, and can be connections. People looking to hire may well have formerly been teapot club officers, even if they graduated several years ago. More connections- you have something you can talk about.

  40. Bob*

    My networking consists of probably 95% LinkedIn. I’m not a social person though I do sort of force myself to be more forward at work because I think it is expected. But it takes almost no effort to send someone a connection request in LinkedIn. The key for me is that we are in some way connected, even if we just attended the same meeting once. But they need to know who I am or it feels weird. I can’t stand what I call “connection collectors” who will literally link to anyone. I don’t consider that a useful network because you don’t know anything about your connections.

    To me, LinkedIn is a way to stay in touch with people I don’t know well enough to exchange contact information. And even if I don’t personally like you, I wouldn’t object to a LinkedIn message about something career-related. I’ve been contacted by ex-managers who moved to new companies. Recruiters occasionally check in with me. I’ve reached out to previous co-workers when my current company had an opening they might be interested in. Most people love to be the one to find you a job, find you a deal on a used car, introduce you to your eventual spouse, etc.

    That’s networking to me. I put in almost no effort other than sending an occasional LinkedIn invite. It was a lot harder when you had to physically exchange business cards and maintain a Rolodex.

  41. August*

    This is an amazing post! As a recent grad, networking is also something that I’ve been really, really reluctant to engage in. I hope this isn’t too off-topic, but does anyone have any specific examples re: how to network? The only experience I’ve ever had is the networking events at my university, which felt forced and slimy. I love meeting new people, but I’m not great at connecting instantly, and the following up that a lot of people are describing feels sort of intrusive to me.

    1. Justin*

      If I could give college me advice, I’d ask any grads who are a bit farther out from you if you can talk to them about career stuff. People you actually like. Just go get some coffee, low pressure.

      That’s what I should have done!

    2. Mananana*

      If you haven’t already, go back through and read the comments. Because there is some really good advice, including tapping into your alumnae networks, using LinkedIn, and generally just connecting with people. Networking is just business-speak for “getting to know people.” That could be through hobbies, church, or your plumber’s uncle’s accountant who knows someone who is hiring a Teapot designer.

    3. Marthooh*

      And for how not to network, there’s the recent post about job candidates who cyber-stalk.

  42. Nonprofit Lady*

    College me would have really related to the OP. But current me (about 10 years out of college) definitely sees the benefits of the kind of networking that Allison wrote about in her response! I think the biggest difference has been seeing how networking plays out in the real work world, versus what you hear about when you’re a college student.
    Now that I’ve been in the nonprofit field for a while, I see that networking can sort of happen naturally because you NEED to work with other people outside your organization in the course of your normal work. So it pays off to be friendly, competent, easy to work with, and useful, because that leaves people with an impression that you’re someone who could be counted on in the future. And sometimes, you meet someone who you have a genuine friendly connection with and maybe you work in lunch or coffee with them once in a while, or take them up on an invite to their fundraiser, or whatever. And then you’ve networked but it all feels really natural… not performative like you’re worried about. So hang in there. There are of course “networking groups” where things can feel forced, but not all networking looks like that, and depending on the kind of work you want to do, I suspect that networking will start to make more sense as your career unfolds.
    Best of luck!

  43. Oxford Coma*

    This is the cousin of why I refuse to join my alumni association. I paid tens of thousands of dollars to go to your school, and I’ll be damned if I’m giving you another hundred bucks a year to “connect” with people. The diploma should suffice.

  44. Who? Me?*

    Whatever you do, however you choose to network, I’d suggest avoiding “after hours” events purported to be networking events.

    In some cities, they are genuinely about business and networking. But in others, they are mere drink fests.

    The way to determine the difference is to note where they are held. If they are onsite at a business, they generally provide info about the company and tours.

    1. Who? Me?*

      I should have added that events held at bars, country clubs, etc., tend to focus on drinking, not business or true networking.

  45. The Expendable Redshirt*

    Gosh. I know that I didn’t write this post, but I could have. The word “networking” makes me want to vomit a bit in my mouth. Part of the reason is, like the OP, I think that networking feels slimy or fake. Another complication is that I’m an antisocial introvert. Interacting with other humans feels unpleasant and exhausting. Conferences and parties are the very definition of Hell. Re-framing the idea of networking as “my work brings me into contact with people who probably have similar interests to my own, and in many cases it will be interesting to get to know them better” doesn’t work much. Really, I don’t want to engage with the other human because I’ve already used my maximum amount of social energy.
    And yet, I know that this isn’t a great way to live my professional life. What has helped is thinking that I Need to Do This Networking Thing for the Good of My Clients. The other strategy I try is to act like I’m a Normal Human at a Conference. Sometimes acting a role is enough to make networking a pleasant process.

  46. Justin*

    I used to hate the concept of networking when I was a young college pup. It seemed so fake and I hated everyone who liked it/was good at it.

    Eventually though, I realized how useful it was, and that it can be done authentically. I meet interesting people through my work, and we don’t become best friends, and that’s okay!

    Just try to find people you can enjoy speaking to (even if just about work/career things) and it can help you.

  47. epi*

    The only thing I would add is that junior people have a lot to offer beyond the satisfaction of helping them.

    IME jobs you get through networking are not favors. They needed to be done, and it helps the person hiring you to get someone they know is pleasant, reliable, and capable of doing the work. It is a bonus if they have some idea of your career plans and know you will be available for the needed amount of time.

    I have had several jobs just offered to me by people I knew when I wasn’t necessarily looking, for this reason. Sometimes a project needs to ramp up fast, or a specific task is forming an expensive bottleneck. In those situations, you reach out to someone you know. They are mutually beneficial, and only as slimy as getting your work done.

  48. Cedrus Libani*

    IMO, networking “up” feels slimy and useless…because it is. But you can network with your peers. I know that seems weird when you’re just starting out, and your friends are all coffee-fetching peons too. But if I have useful contacts or information, I’m happy to send that along to trusted peers, and they do the same for me. That’s all networking is. It’s win-win, not butt-kissing.

  49. Mike*

    My wife’s facing this same problem right now. She’s just graduated with a PHD and no network to speak of, and wants a job ASAP.

    She’s being bombarded with the advice that applying directly is pointless, and if she wants a job she needs to network, network, network. But also don’t network just to get a job. So now she’s starting to see networking and informational interviews as “Asking someone for a job, when you both know that’s what’s going on, and you’re both pretending it’s not.” I’m not sure how to help her, as this is how most of the resources available to her are presenting it.

    1. The Expendable Redshirt*

      Applying directly is how most people get jobs.* Does your wife read Ask a Manager? I’ve found Alison to be a Voice of Reason for all things employment.

  50. Solo*

    I felt this way through college and most of my early career. I wound up working for a couple of years on a “drop out” passion project that involved close collaboration and a lot of peer mentoring. One day I overheard a colleague point to me as an example of an excellent networker, and that surprised the hell out of me and made me rethink what networking means. What I’ve settled on now as a working definition of ‘networking’ is: talk to people, be curious, and share knowledge (of related topics, interesting tidbits, people who are working on similar topics). That ticks all my boxes of what it means to be a good scientist and doesn’t feel slimy to me, but YMMV. :)

  51. J.B.*

    OP – this is a great question and Alison has a good answer. I would also recommend that when you start a new job, you keep the ideas up. If you listen and talk to people, you can start knowing who can answer x, or y question. Even better is when people know you can help them with z.

  52. The New Wanderer*

    I’ve found recently that I have a professional network (most of whom I am friendly with) and I have friends, and they do not mix. The contacts I have used to help with an application or give advice are people I have worked with or near, that I would consider colleagues. And I’ve been comfortable being up front about looking for a job and being open to hearing about possible fits or referrals or advice, or asking for a recommendation when it makes sense to.

    But I have also mentioned to a few friends (who were never coworkers) that I was applying to their respective small companies and gotten totally ignored. I was already uncomfortable emailing them and I didn’t ask for anything like a referral much less a recommendation. I just thought it would be weirder if I got an interview/offer and I had never mentioned it to them. Should have stuck with my instinct not to bother, because getting ignored sends a bigger message about the friendship than just a simple “Cool, good luck!” (Which is what I would tell someone I didn’t want to refer, and I would offer to help if I could for someone I did want to recommend.)

  53. ShellBell*

    We work with all kinds of people who we might not choose to date or be friends with in a social setting. The idea that being open minded, getting know them, understanding their work, and asking for or giving them professional assistance is SLIMY is absurd. Its not a social club. It’s not tinder. It’s work. Stop being so judgemental and get to know your colleagues. Even the ones you wouldn’t choose as friends or hook ups. You might be shocked by how much you learn and how much they have to offer. You might have something to offer them to if you get out of your own head.

    1. The Expendable Redshirt*

      I think part of the problem is that networking often isn’t explained properly (That getting to know people because they are interesting humans is the spirit of mutual benefit networking. Alison does a great job of explaining what networking actually is) There’s a misunderstanding that networking has the sole goal of using another human to obtain a job. Or that one should try to know every human you ever come into contact with to sell yourself. Objectification does feel pretty slimy.

      A lot of time people don’t realise that mutually beneficial networking can have a time delay. As you pointed out Shell, you might have something to offer the other person/vice versa. Though this useful exchange of awesomeness may happen sometime in the future. For example, I encountered a new problem last week involving Llama Hay Supply. One of my coworkers used to work in a Llama Hay Supply yard, so she was able to explain why the grass was so wilted. I’d never had reason to inquire about llama fodder before that point. Next week, I might have some useful information to share about Buffalo Hoof Polishing.

  54. a1*

    Also note that your “network” isn’t just people you know through work or your field. There are some good examples above but I’ll add mine. I work in banking/finance and am pretty high up, but not C-suite, and am looking for a new job. My colleagues and former colleagues and other professionals I’ve met through work (aka what a lot of people think of as their network) are not the ones that are helping me most. It’s my contacts/”friends”* that I’ve made through my serious hobby – theater. (And that adds to someone else’s point above that you might be surprised how big a network you already have.)

    * “friends” is in quotes to indicate these are like “work friends” or “professional friends” listed above in other comments, in that we do like each other, and hang out at theater events together, but we aren’t telling each other are deepest desires or secrets or anything.

  55. Kisses*

    I wonder if there’s a way for Allison to put a note at the top of reader questions that she doesn’t answer here onsite. I find it frustrating to get to the bottom of the question and be interested but find no answer. Granted I could click through the link, but with limited data it adds up! Not to mention, when the question is long winded, I have to scroll through it a second time. Small request.

    1. Someone else*

      Probably not. If the content was for that site, they probably have an agreement that it gets posted there and only there, hence the links from here…

      1. Link Later*

        The request was not to answer the question here, just to make it clear at the start of the post that the answer is hosted offsite. It makes no difference to New York Magazine if Alison states that at the start of the post or only at the end – the post is still on their site, and she is still linking to it.

        Perhaps this could be done by making the title clearer – at present it reads the same as the questions answered here, meaning that you have to read to the end of the post to see that the answer is on another site. Making the title something like “New York Magazine: I hate the idea of networking — it feels slimy” or “I hate the idea of networking — it feels slimy (Linked Post)” would make things clearer and help those who read on limited data/mobile devices.

        1. Kisses*

          Thank you, and yes, this would be ideal. But since Allison did clarify below, it will help me going forward. Thank you everyone, just of topic really quickly, the community here is very welcoming.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If it’s helpful to know, the 12:30 p.m. Eastern time post is nearly always one to something I’ve written for another site (or to the podcast). This is the usual schedule (all Eastern time):

      midnight: short answers
      11 a.m.: reader question and answer
      12:30 pm. link to outside post or podcast (or occasionally an update)
      2 p.m.: reader question and answer

  56. LilySparrow*

    I used to feel this way, and forced myself to do it, and made really bad impressions on people as insincere, affected, and strained – because I was.

    Then at some point, I started just being curious about what people around me were doing, and talking to people I liked about interesting stuff they were working on. And then they started asking me what kinds of things I was working on.

    And then at some point, Person A said she wanted to know about llama wrangling, and I said, “You should talk to Person B, they know all about it.”

    And then I realized what networking actually is.

  57. Artemesia*

    I haven’t read everything, but in response to the OP, I think building professional relationships is central to being a professional and so ‘networking’ through professional associations and civic organizations of business people (e.g. in my last city I belonged to a group of professional women created to provide those connections and support to women in professions who often feel isolated — that was 35 years ago when it began). is just part of being a professional or business person. Those kinds of organizations – and some of them have student members — are frankly designed to build professional relationships. There is nothing slightly ‘slimy’ about using those connections and plenty of reason to build them.

    I’ve told this story before, but when I lost my job in a merger when my entire department was cut as the Octopus taking us over had the same group, I heard about a new person coming into the organization to run a major program that I was well qualified in. I sent him a letter and resume; at the same time I contacted my major professor from grad school whom I knew knew him and he contacted him to put a good word in. I received two letters the same day from Important Newguy. One was a form letter basically saying ‘got your letter, we’ll definitely file it.’ The other was warm, personal and asked me to contact his admin next week because he had a project he wanted me to work with him on. That led to the next 30 years of my career which included many promotions and successes. It happened because of a connection.

  58. SophieK*

    OP (and others), I want to share with you something that helped me when I was first getting comfortable with commission sales.

    As I got ready in the morning I watched Isaac Mizrahi’s talk show, and I noticed that he showed so much genuine interest in his guests I saw sides of them I’d never seen before. So I decided to pretend I was a talk show host and I focused on getting to my potential customer’s true, interesting, self rather than focusing on selling.

    I was soon one of the top saleswomen in the region and got three promotions in one year.

    I was painfully shy until into my 30s, when I was dragged kicking and screaming into commission sales. If I can do it, you can do it!

  59. Scott M*

    First of all, I think people assign an importance to networking that isn’t really true. I’ve spent about 30 years of my career and I don’t make any effort to network with people. I just am helpful in my job and people come to me for answers. But I don’t try to maintain relationships.
    Secondly, the term networking was probably coined by somebody who had noticed that those with professional networks are successful. So they made the incorrect causal connection that creating a network makes you successful, instead of realizing that successful people have a network because they’re successful first.
    A conclusion, you don’t have to network if you don’t want to. It’s not nearly as important as everyone thinks it is.

  60. Echo*

    Alison, thanks for this! I’m in my late 20s now, and 5-7 years ago I definitely had the letter writer’s impression of networking as slimy and transactional. What I’ve learned since then:

    -“Networking” is just a fancy term for meeting people who share your interests. I learned about my current position through a meetup related to a geeky interest. Someone at the meetup heard me mention that I worked in a similar field to hers and we started chatting about our careers.

    -Don’t go to “networking events”. Every time I go to one of these, everyone is just there to find jobs. I thought it might actually be an opportunity to meet other people in my field. It was not. It was an opportunity to meet people who were trying to break into my field, but couldn’t articulate what appealed to them about the field and didn’t want to chat about anything except whether I was hiring. Maybe there are exceptions to this, but I haven’t found one yet.

    -The idea that “most jobs are found through networking” does not mean there is a secret white-glove process for job applicants that have a personal connection to the organization. It just means that you can find out about really cool opportunities you never would have heard of otherwise by talking to people. At my (large, highly-competitive) company, being referred bumps you up in the queue to get an initial interview, but doesn’t give you any advantage in the actual interviewing process. Way more importantly from that, less than half of our staff are hired through referrals. Alison has mentioned it before, but the platitude that “most jobs aren’t advertised” refers to very senior positions like CEOs, where search firms proactively identify candidates.

    -People do reach out to me from time to time to chat about my organization. The best conversation like this I ever had was with a young university student who just wanted to learn about potential career paths for her degree. She wasn’t job hunting at the time. More people should do this. These conversations are fun for professionals! She’ll be on the job market this year and she will have so much more knowledge about what to look out for. It ties in very much to Alison’s usual advice that for most people, you don’t just want to find “a job, any job” but rather one that you will find engaging and that will help you grown in your career…and that is at a healthy, functional organization. You won’t know that unless you ask. You don’t want to position yourself as “doing whatever you can to get a job” but rather “figuring out what’s the right path for me”.

    1. Echo*

      Oh, and by “highly-competitive” I mean we get a lot of job applications, not that our internal culture is competitive! I wouldn’t want to work somewhere with the latter. :)

  61. GreenDoor*

    For me, the best “networking” has happened completely organically. I have an accounting degree and worked in city government for a council member as an aide. In the course of my work, I dealt with the guy that managed sewer repair. We always had friendly chats about nothing and one day he mentioned his wife is hiring analysts and he thought I should apply. I did and am now in a position that came with a 30% pay increase. From chatting with the sewer guy. IN that same job, I was chummy with a coworker who, one day mentioned he coaches high school debate. I said I was on my school’s team! That casual conversation resulted in a nice side gig judging debate competitions.

    Never once in my career have I intentionally sought out people I thought I could “use”. And I have never once felt compelled to maintain relationships with people I don’t care to keep contact with or who clearly want to use me. Yet I’ve been connected to great opportunities and have had a great career all the while.

  62. Scott M*

    “And if you’re thinking “well, I’m not genuinely interested in getting to know random strangers,” that’s the wrong way to look at it. Instead, look at it as “my work brings me into contact with people who probably have similar interests to my own, and in many cases it will be interesting to get to know them better.””

    My work does not bring me into contact with people who have similar interests. It brings me into contact with people who have similar SKILLLS to accomplish a job. Once the job is done, I don’t need to associate with them any more so I don’t have an interest in them.
    Just because you work with someone doesn’t mean that you have something in common with them that persists beyond the job.

  63. thesoundofmusic*

    Successful networking can really broaden your horizons and help you become better informed about a lot of areas that you wouldn’t automatically know much about. I tell people just to be curious. You don’t have to go into it with some idea of how to “use” this contact. You can just want to learn more. How you “use” the network—or not–is entirely up to you.

    And remember you are already networking–most young people I know use their social media to reach out to friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends. That is networking. You are just doing it in a different way when you do it face to face.

  64. Greg*

    Alison, I’m so glad you mentioned that annoying habit some people have of constantly dropping the name of the person they’re talking with into a conversation. Because let me tell you, Alison, there is nothing I find more annoying. Let me ask you something, Alison, do these people realize how creepy it comes across? I don’t know about you, Alison, but I immediately assume they read some book on tips for salespeople that recommended they do it. It drives me absolutely nuts, Alison.

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