we have a plague of overly aggressive networkers

There are people who get legitimately excited about the prospect of broadening their professional circle—and then there are the rest of us, who shudder and blanche when we contemplate “networking.” Part of the reason for this visceral unease is the scourge of overly aggressive networkers: those people who, once encountered, loom large in our memories forever.

I wrote a column for Slate that explores aggressive networkers, why we hate them, and why they do it. (And it includes some highlights from memorable letters from here.) You can read it here.

{ 114 comments… read them below }

    1. CoveredInBees*

      I had a networking stalker who seemed to think I was much higher on the food chain than I was and kept pestering me. We both vaguely knew someone in common, but that was it. They kept pestering me to help them get a job doing something more senior than I actually did because they were certain I could make it happen.

  1. JokeyJules*

    As an assertive person by nature, I never understood the conscious decision not to just be direct in your communication.
    like, just SAY it. Neither of us has time to decipher your subtle hints.
    “(Boyfriend), I don’t like that every day I get home from work and spend 10-15 minutes picking up the messes you leave behind when you get ready for work. It feels disrespectful of my time and living space”
    Rather than waiting for him to get home, notice I’m upset, accurately figure out why I’m upset, and find his own resolve, which honestly may or may not happen.
    I’m not advocating for people to be abrasive or rude, but being clear and direct, for me, has a 100% success rate of getting my message clearly understood immediately.

    1. Submerged Tenths*

      Now, if only (boyfriend) would change his nasty habits and show some respect! [he didn’t; he’s now history]

      1. JokeyJules*

        quite the opposite!
        He apologized for it, and is actively working on time management and changing habits.

    2. Luna*

      But saying something like that to your boyfriend or close friend/family member is completely different than knowing the perfect way to respond when a stranger unexpectedly accosts you at a professional event.

      1. JokeyJules*

        “I’ve got to go because there are a lot of people I’d like to meet here today, but if you want to have a one-on-one chat, shoot me an email and we can get coffee sometime”
        I feel like that direct and forthcoming as well

        1. Mom MD*

          That’s a better example than the personal one. I would omit the coffee part if I wanted to be completely rid of them.

    3. Jules the Third*

      Ask vs Guess socialization – it’s really helpful, especially when dealing with other cultures.

      I have a team that works in the US Midwest, and I’m doing better now that I’m following some of the Guess culture norms, like ‘thanks even for normal work’ and ‘chat before getting to the work’. I have done the ‘chat’ for my non-US contacts for years, and they seemed to respond well to it, and adding that has made things smoother with the US Midwest team too. But it’s such a relief to get back to the engineers…

      1. Cube Diva*

        Ugh I am from the US Midwest and I hate this! But EVERYONE else seems to love it, so I absolutely can see where it’s helped. I just wish we could get to the work, and done with the meeting or call. I’m not an engineer, but I can appreciate direct-ness, absolutely. :)

    4. Magenta Sky*

      A lot of people are very, very averse to confrontation of any sort. They’ll put up with incredible abuse rather than tell someone to take a hike because of it. And there are people who understand this, and exploit it. I don’t like these people.

      (But I’m with you, and when I’m annoyed, I have a real gift for making people wish for nothing in life more than to never, ever, ever have to interact with me again in any way.)

      1. Luna*

        And those same people often do not care that they are bothering you, not matter how directly you tell them. So being direct won’t help you if the person’s intent is to get whatever they want regardless of the impact on others.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          At that point, I have a gift for being more of an assh*le than they are, until they just leave me alone. I’m very good at it. There’s also a point where you just call 911. (And generally, you don’t have to. Just *start* dialing it, while looking them right in the eye, and even the most obnoxious will get the hint.)

    5. nnn*

      A lot of it can depend on the social capital a person has in a particular context, plus on the social capital they have had historically.

      For example, for the first 20ish years if my life, any time I made a clear and direct statement to someone old enough to perceive me as a “kid” (including in workplace contexts), they’d scold me “Don’t talk back!” Even if the thing I was saying was simply conveying an immediately-necessary fact (e.g. “The poutine is part of the second order, not the first order.”).

      Therefore, I had a lifetime’s empirical evidence that clear and direct statements don’t get results and do get me into trouble.

      Then when I was 22, I had the extreme good fortune to be hired in a professional job where I suddenly had the social capital to be clear and direct. But no one told me this. No one told me that my lifetime’s empirical evidence was now inapplicable, so I was proceeding as though things were as they had always been. And, because my lifetime’s empirical evidence told me that being clear and direct was unacceptable, I never tried it, so I had no empirical evidence that it would work.

      Ironically, many of the people who told my young-adult self “Don’t talk back” any time I was direct also like to complain about people who aren’t direct.

      1. Artemesia*

        So this. Enormous self delusion around this. All sorts of people say ‘oh if only he had asked when (he left work early so I fired him — but if he had only asked it would have been okay; if he was hungry he just had to ask and I would have bought him a meal, instead of him trying to steal food; if she had just made clear she was overloaded and couldn’t take this on, I would have dealt with it but not she failed on the project because she didn’t have time to get it done and so we demoted her). All those people have long records of saying ‘no’ to reasonable requests, waving guns or yelling at hungry people, refusing to adjust workloads, whatever. I don’t think I have heard that ‘If only he had asked’ line when it has not been a complete lie.

        1. Vivid Galaxy*

          I have. And it really was something we could have dealt with if we had known. Someone in my department (I’m senior to him, but not his boss, and I don’t know him very well.) had snapped and quit with a three day notice.

          His reason for quitting was that he wasn’t recieving an accommodation that he needed for a health issue that no one knew about (because he never told anyone, and we don’t ask about what isn’t offered.). He was even offered the accommodation if it got him to stay, but he refused immediately, because him leaving would have really put us in pinch to get a large project done.

          This was all a couple of years ago, and according to a couple of lawyers in my network/actual friend group, he had gone to some of them to try and sue for discrimination. All turned him down, and one had a really hard time not laughing in his face.

          Seriously, if you want something like that, you have to ask, and reasonable people (or people trying to avoid actual discrimination suits) will give it to you.

      2. Oxford Coma*

        I see you’ve met my father, who grounded me for my “smart-ass mouth” when I pointed out that he threw the wrong breaker before working on a light fixture. Apparently obedient children allow their parents to electrocute themselves.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        This is a really good explanation.

        My young self learned that speaking up would get me screamed at by someone with more power, and nothing would change. So I learned to go silent. Unlearning that shut-up-retreat instinct took a lot of effort.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Yep, agreed.

          The method that I learned worked best — not just growing up but also in my early career — was to start with dropping light hints and gently escalate until I was understood, so that I was never using more force than needed to make a request. Immediately making a direct and blunt request was one of the most counterproductive things I could do, and I nearly always got tone-policed on it (ie “Well if you hadn’t asked in such a nasty way I would have been happy to help, but…”)

      4. Nicole*

        I’m almost 32 and still get that kind of attitude from my mother. Everything I say/do has to have some sort of nefarious undermeaning that has the ultimate goal of being disrespectful to her.

        (After I get married in August I’m cutting off contact).

    6. Is pumpkin a vegetable?*

      Same. My mom is a big “hinter,” and I’m always saying “just come out with already! No one is going to know what you’re getting at!”

      1. Artemesia*

        So this. I took my mother to Italy when she was 80 — her only trip to Europe and spent two weeks trying to guess what she wanted or needed. “oh you two just go on to dinner without me, you need some time without me dragging along” — so is it ‘I am tired and not hungry and want to go to bed’ or ‘I want to be cajoled into joining you and assured I am not a bother’ or? Drove me around the bend as I just wanted her to have what she wanted. Never got that one figured out in her lifetime.

    7. Ann O.*

      As others have pointed out, direct communication is often unsafe. A lot of people become defensive rather than receptive when being told something that they don’t want to be told.

      When done as part of a cultural norm, indirect communication is effective and face saving. I personally prefer it. However, it has the drawback that it really only works well within a shared cultural norm. Otherwise, it can lead to confusion or missed information.

      1. Oranges*

        This is very well stated.

        I come from and appreciate my “guess” culture but I do understand that it’s annoying to others. I will adapt myself to the best of my ability to others’ preferences but it’s not going to be perfect. There is no one “right” way to communicate and one “wrong” way; both “guess” and “ask” have their drawbacks and pluses it depends upon what works best for the society as it’s set up.

        I’m kinda tired of all the “ask is better than guess” personally. Yes, it’s harder to go from an “ask” culture to a “guess” culture. However it’s also harder for me to eat any Mexican food (midwestern spice wimp), when I go to Mexico I’m not gonna tell all of them to stop spicing their food though. I’m the interloper and it’s on me to adjust.

        This message board is a place where there is a large spectrum of ask-guess cultures, therefore it skews to more explicit “ask” culture which makes sense (ask is not as context dependent). But c’mon… please. Both are acceptable modes of communicating and both have outliers which harm the person’s life and aggravate those around them.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          “Both are acceptable modes of communicating and both have outliers which harm the person’s life and aggravate those around them.”

          But I don’t want to perform excessive social interactions and take on unnecessary emotional labor in non-social situations, like at work—I don’t want to do it in social situations either, but I’m more willing to accept interpersonal quirks when they belong to people I’m actively choosing to spend time with.

  2. Temperance*

    The weirdest experience I’ve had with a pushy networker was when a solo practitioner gave me his business card because he wanted *my* job. His card also had his trademarked corny “personal brand” on it.

    I kept it for the LOL factor, to be honest.

    1. Apostrophina*

      Not technically networking, but at an old job, someone was brought through the office and eventually introduced to me.

      “This is Apostrophina, she does a lot of our proofreading.”

      “Oh, I won’t need anything like that,” he said… and on his way out, he handed me a business card with a typo in his job title.

      I said nothing. I think I still have it somewhere.

      1. London Calling*

        Now I’D have called after him and pointed that out. You are a much, much better person than I am.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        …. Why would you need a dude? They are usually easy to find.

        I would understand “man with truck” or “hard drive whisperer.”

        1. Snark*

          Depends on what kind of dude you’re looking for. In a mountain town, we got lots of Brewery Dudes and Mountain Bike Dudes and River Rat Dudes, but if you want a Surfer Dude or some other, more laid-back variety of dude, you’re going to be SOL.

          1. NaoNao*

            Ugh so true. When I was on the dating scene in my larger but still mountain town vibe city, it was ALL 24/7 Dudes.

            1. Snark*

              You know you live in a mountain town when you go on a blind date, the person is wearing Chacos….and so are you.

    2. Gorgo*

      When I worked at a coffee shop, a friendly customer gave me his business card but was out the door before I looked at it. He was a stripper.

  3. LadyKelvin*

    I was reading this article this morning without paying attension to the byline. And then I thought, huh, I’ve heard this story before. Scroll back to the top, and yep! Its Alison.

    I do hate networking. Small talk and introducing myself to people do not come naturally to me and its always awkward ending the conversation. I usually get stuck “talking” to the people who talk for hours without breath and then miss out on meeting other people because I don’t know how to get away.

    1. Temperance*

      I attended a training on best networking practices, and there are a few amazing strategies for dumping Stage 4 clingers:

      1.) Pretend that you need to step away to make a call or use the restroom.
      2.) Pretend that you need to talk to a colleague about a work matter.

      If the person is the kind of weirdo/creep who will follow you, the best course of action is to introduce him or her to another strange person, so they can occupy each other’s time for hours.

  4. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Also, I’m doing a Twitter chat with Slate today about this article and any other workplace questions you have — it’s an hour starting at 1 p.m. Eastern, and you can use #DirectReport to follow along or ask questions.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Can you have a columnist to columnist chat with Ask Natalie from the Post Gazette in Pittsburgh and ask her take it down a notch? With each reply to the lovelorn or misunderstood is a tip for aggressively networking. It’s weird.

    2. a nonny mouse*

      I have an appointment then, but I’d love a column that discusses what to do AFTER a networking / socializing event is over. I always make sure to prioritize getting business cards over giving mine away, but the most that ever happens afterwards is a LinkedIn connection and a single follow-up “nice to meet you!” email. After that, the conversation fizzles out, and no one ever remembers me / reaches out to me for work opportunities down the line. And I have no idea how to maintain the whole one-sided “So, hi, remember me?” contacts at regular enough intervals that they would actually remember me when it would be beneficial to do so; especially since there never seems to be interest in doing so from their end (at least not enough interest for them to reach out themselves… I literally never hear from them again.)

      I’ve gotten work referrals from networking maybe once or twice in more than a decade, and I’ve certainly spent more money / time / effort on these events than that. (For appropriate calibration, I was freelancing for most of that period, so frequent new business / project work was vital to keeping the rent paid. I had to quit freelancing solely because I ran out of money, and am currently miserable in a full-time job working for someone else.)

      1. Artemesia*

        The way this has worked for me socially and professionally is to set a one on one coffee or lunch if at all possible. If it was someone way above me, then it was more delicate, but sometimes a nice note would elicit a response and offer to ‘help if you ever . . .’ which gave me an opening to call on them ‘when I ever . . .’ But with people sort of horizontal in status, taking the initiative to get together is the only thing that worked. I managed to create a new social circle the same way when I moved to a new city where I knew no one after retirement. Most people don’t do this and so meetups etc don’t get you anywhere; I just got their phone number than initiated a lunch get together and it worked out over half the time to go further than that.

  5. Open Source Kate*

    I was at a women-in-technology event over the weekend and there was an Overly Aggressive Male Networker even THERE. (Let me not get started on the fact that the conference allowed him to SPEAK and it wasn’t about something like good male allyship but about something a woman/non-binary person could have spoken on, I literally don’t think companies should be allowed to send men to speak at these events unless there’s a compelling argument for the speaker being male).

    He sat down next to me in a session so I was stuck. He opened with a whole series of personal questions, instead of something professional or conference related, which I answered in monosyllables while not looking up from my laptop (which was apparently not enough of a social cue to leave me the fuck alone). To his credit he later did ask about what I did, but probably only because I asked him what he did in order to get him to stop asking personal questions. It was clear that he didn’t understand the technologies I work on and wasn’t interested in them.

    During the session he kept commenting on the speaker’s work while I was trying to focus and jot down their code snippets so I could execute the code later. He was absolutely bent on getting me to follow him on Twitter so he could DM me about his conference and I don’t even work remotely close to that technology. I would have preferred to stay for the session after the this one, but he was staying and I felt like I needed to leave the room.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      At least in the US, there is often a legal requirement that the “Subgroup X in Field Y” conference cannot be open only to people from Subgroup X.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Attending, and speaking where that is “everyone who wants a slot sign up” or “everyone with a poster needs to do a speech.” The smaller number of invited speakers all being group X (women, in my own narrow experience) is normal.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Yeah, you can easily run afoul of this if you try to do a women’s lunch or a women’s mentoring program. You probably can’t literally forbid men – or any other gender! – from participating if they want to.

        1. Nanani*

          The rule is just about not banning people from attending, though. Having men SPEAKING at a women’s event is all kinds of problematic.

    2. Eric*

      I’ve heard of conferences/meetups/tech communities that set up some sort of anonymous text number that people can text if they’re feeling uncomfortable, so a staffer can intervene.

      It’s a big problem, and unfortunately tech isn’t good at handling it yet.

      1. Open Source Kate*

        Yup actually I do enforce a code of conduct myself and I have been on the receiving end of these numbers! To clarify I wasn’t feeling harassed or anything that rose to the complaint level, nor do I feel offended that he was allowed to be present, I just felt it was remarkably clueless for him to be doing an aggressive networker act at a women-in-tech conference, and to be taking up a speaker slot in addition to being aggressive.

        There was another man at the conference who spoke together with a woman about a project they were doing together. He was not at all an aggressive networker, he seemed to genuinely care about the work I was doing, and I got the impression that he understood that his role was as a guest in a space that centered women, so I believe there are ways to do this which are better.

    3. oviraptor*

      It kind of sounds like he read one of those life hack type articles that said something like “To meet women go to an all-women conference. Bonus points if you snag a speaking gig at said conference. Cuz, you know, ALL the women will be fawning all over you, you stud muffin”. Or something like that…

    4. ginger ale for all*

      When I was young, I went to a Girl Scout Girls Empowerment weekend and the guest speaker was an old retired pro football player (I think it was Babe Laufenberg, he also did the sports on the news). Not only was he an over the hill guy, he spoke in football metaphors through the whole speech.

  6. Eric*

    There is something awfully sad in some of these stories. While some aggressive networkers are motivated by an overabundance of ambition, surely some of them are simply driven by the fear that this is what it takes to find professional (and thus financial) stability. They’re misguided in the way they’re going about it, but it’s hard to fault people who are just trying like hell to get and stay employed.

    This paragraph resonated with me. My own experience like this happened after a conference I went to. I exchanged contact details like LinkedIn with a few other people. Right after that, one of those guys started to text me, asking to help him find a job. I put him in touch with one guy I knew who was hiring, but that didn’t work out. The guy kept texting me with variants on “please help me get a job” and “can you get me a job at your company?” (I was working for a state government agency at the time, so that wasn’t remotely possible). Every time I would reply with “I’m sorry, I don’t know anyone else whose company is hiring” or “I genuinely can’t at my org, have you tried [tech job site list here]?”.

    It’s incredibly frustrating, because you get where they’re coming from, and yet you’re limited in what you can do. I can’t make new jobs out of thin air, and it’s a delicate dance to figure out how to say “you need to change your approach” without offending.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I was at a conference for young women in Group X, and the whole networking and mentoring thing was incredibly frustrating for them. Like, people with years of experience had plenty of examples of times when their network helped them, like friend’s cousin’s company was hiring and that’s how they heard about the opening. But they couldn’t explain how you go about creating this network as a 19 year old. The same with mentors being great, but established very busy people not wanting a string of “Hi I’m new will you mentor me?” people coming through their office, yet the kids were somehow supposed to network themselves into jobs and mentors.

      1. Safetykats*

        I think the problem is that your network obviously develops over time, as you work on many different projects with many different people. The best advice I can find to give young career professionals is to develop professional relationships with the people they encounter in their jobs. Be helpful to everyone, and ask appropriate questions. Volunteer for stretch assignments, especially if they result in working with groups of people you don’t know, and people from other related disciplines. Eventually you will wake up and find that you have a network.

        Because by definition a useful network is comprised of people who know your capabilities and therefore would vouch for you if needed, you can pass out as many business cards to random people at random conferences as you like, to no avail. Concentrating on finding opportunities to work with new people is therefore always going to be your best bet.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Yeah, I think we overemphasize what “networking” means when we talk to young people. They think it means connecting with powerful people in order to gain favors from them, which is … really a tall order from a recent intern. I think it’s more relevant to talk about building relationships with people in your field – which could be someone at your own level, a fellow intern, or even students who are just coming up.

          1. Spider*

            Exactly — networking is usually framed as “how can I get people to help me?” and other self-centered (in all meanings of that phrase) activities, so no wonder it feels slimy to a lot of people, but it’s equally about facilitating connections between people you know who are strangers to each other but could benefit from each other’s expertise. That part is actually fun.

          2. Artemesia*

            In palmier times, young professionals networked with each other and as they moved up in their professions, they then had all sorts of connections with people also moving into high places. It is almost impossible to build strong connections with people several rungs up the ladder above you which is why people born with those connections are so lucky. Most of the young people I know with lucrative Wall Street entry jobs and similar are the offspring of the rich, famous, or professionally elite.

        2. smoke tree*

          Depending on industry, another tactic I think can be genuinely helpful early in your career is to volunteer and get involved with local events related to the field. In publishing, this can be extremely helpful. I have issues with how much of your success in publishing depends on personal connections and being willing to work for free, but it is a strategy that works.

      2. Eric*

        Yes. There being little formal education on how to conscientiously and effectively network makes professional life difficult for a lot of people.

      3. Optimistic Prime*

        Yes, this is always my pet peeve about career panels and workshops. Experienced professionals will often tell younger/less advanced workers that they need to “network” and can talk about length about how important it is but usually offer little to no information about how to actually build a network, especially if you are brand new to a field or trying to break in. I make it a point that when I speak on a panel to talk about networking being important but ALSO offer examples of things I’ve done to network in my field as a junior/early-career person.

    2. Nanani*


      Expecting people new to the field to network right out of the box strikes me as a legacy of privilege. When everybody got their job by going to the “right” school or coming from the “right” family then networking was something everyone could do. That is not the case for anyone but the elite anymore.

      1. nnn*

        This. I’m an established professional, as are most of my family and friends, and I literally don’t know anyone who can get someone a job. Everyone I know can only direct you to the “careers” page on their employer’s website.

    3. Triple Anon*

      Yeah. And I think it’s not only ambition and misguided ideas about networking. I think that sometimes more concerning interpersonal issues are at play. I don’t do networking things anymore because of this stuff. It was getting too weird.

      But I just encountered a “go-get-em-tiger” type – someone who was just starting out in something that I’ve been doing for decades. He tried to aggressively force some kind of close friendship on me while giving me weird pep talks. “I know you’ll do great. You got this. You’ll be ok.” It started with him telling me that others in our field have doubts about me because I’m “just starting out,” and, “don’t know what you’re doing yet.” I updated my bio to be more clear about my history, but evidently, these people don’t read. I decided to just avoid them and look for people who will be open to having a two way conversation or reading a short summary of what I do and how long I’ve been doing it.

      1. Workerbee*

        Makes me wonder if he’s just making it up about what others in your field have been saying. Because then you’ll need HIM!

    4. Magenta Sky*

      When dealing with someone who is so resistant to the Clue Bat that they behavior is abusive, you have to abandon the “without being offensive” part of dealing with them.

      “I’m not going to help you because your behavior is offensive and annoying. Now go away and leave me alone.” You have no responsibility to help someone clueless git grow up.

      1. Eric*

        Yeah. You’re right. Back when this happened I did not have the confidence to say that. If that happens nowadays I’d say “I’ve done all I can and it’s a little insulting that you keep asking me to help you more. It makes you come off like you think I’m withholding something from you. Stop texting me.”

      2. Triple Anon*

        I would just block the person’s number. You’re not obligated to respond. And by continuing to communicate with someone like that, you risk additional drama.

  7. Amber Rose*

    Did we ever get an update from the LW who was being followed to the bathroom etc? I hope that person found a way to shut those people down, and I’d love to hear some stories. :)

    I’m bad at networking. I’m fairly sociable and more or less enjoy talking to people I’ve been introduced to, but I’m really bad at approaching people. It’s not that I suck at it exactly (I mean, I do, but…) it’s more that I just don’t think to do it because I’m perfectly happy standing alone and people watching.

    1. Spider*

      I mentioned upthread that networking isn’t just self-promotion, it’s also basically acting as a match-maker between people you know who would be perfect for each other (in a professional sense!) if only they could meet. Realizing this made me feel so much better about attending networking events at conferences, because I’m really shy and hate approaching strangers for anything, let alone for “putting myself out there” and other slimy-feeling things associated with networking. Now I don’t spend days psyching myself up for those events anymore, because my attitude is all about meeting others to see if I can help them collaborate with people I know.

  8. Melissa*

    I thought the “repeat a person’s name in every other sentence” was a recommended technique to help someone remember the name of someone they’ve just met/been introduced to? I mean, it creeps me out to have it done to me, but people I know who have trouble remembering names have recommended it to me as useful. (I am bad at names and am very grateful that at most conferences I attend, people wear nametags.)

    1. Alex*

      I think it’s weird to say someone’s name (or have someone say yours) especially when you’re in a one-on-one conversation. Like, who else are you talking to that you need to keep saying names?

    2. smoke tree*

      The version of that advice that I’ve heard is to repeat the person’s name right after you meet them, which is pretty natural: “Hi, I’m Fergus.” “Nice, to meet you, Fergus” type of thing. Once you get past that threshold, if you start inserting my name into the conversation, I’m going to feel like the target of a ham-fisted con.

  9. JKP*

    I think the difference between bad networkers and good networkers is whether the networker is focused on what they can get from the other person or what they can give to the other person.

    A good networker is focused on the other person, what THEY need, what THEIR problems are, and offering whatever help they can. Sometimes that help is offering the services the networker is trying to sell, but sometimes that help could be giving them the name of a good contractor or pointing them to a resource they didn’t know about. Sometimes it’s just learning about the other person’s business and realizing you know people who could use their help and passing them clients.

    1. Yolo*

      This is true but also a tough line to adhere to–sometimes the networker’s need for a job is more dire than the networking recipient/employer’s need for an employee. Which makes it important to be compassionate but not get taken advantage of when the recipient of networking/jobseeking efforts.

    2. Triple Anon*

      Right! It’s sort of a reverse psychology thing. People think they need to sell themselves because that actually is the end goal. But what they forget is that talking about your credentials comes last. The first step is to learn about the company.

      Go to a car dealership. Observe how they talk to you. Usually, they’re really friendly and interested in your needs and interests. Then, during the conversation, they tell you about the cars they have. Ideally, networking should seem friendlier than selling a car. But you are selling your labor, so it makes sense to have a sense of how sales professionals operate.

  10. Non-profiteer*

    The last paragraph sums it up nicely (like any good last paragraph should). Networking should feel natural and organically coming from the activities you are already doing in your professional (or sometimes personal) life. If it doesn’t feel natural, it’s probably not worth doing. I’ve stopped going to most events that have “networking” in the title – I hate the dynamic, and I hate playing the “is this guy hitting on me, or trying to make a work contact?” game.

    But I also realize that my white, upper-middle class privilege is showing some in this comment. Just don’t be creepy, folks! And if you see someone at a networking event being creepy, go save the person being creeped on. What a great way to make a new friend!

    1. Triple Anon*

      Dude. I used to have a leadership role in a professional org. Every so often, we’d have a joint networking event with a similar org. There was one person in the other org who always approached me and asked where my parents are. Every. Single. Event. I was in my mid-thirties. It was creepy as hell.

    2. SaraV*

      I’m semi-active on a forum that brings fans together of a particular college’s sports teams. I’ve met one lady and her husband IRL about half a dozen times over 3 or 4 years. I just applied for a staff position at this college, and she’s a recent retiree. Without prompt, after mentioning I had applied for a job there, she messaged me on the forum to ask if it was in one of the particular schools, because “I’m close to people there and put in a good word.” Unfortunately, the staff position is a little more generic department.

      But, with just that smallish interaction, she offered to help.

  11. London Calling*

    *We’ve all been targeted by networkers who follow a format to create rapport seemingly devised by an alien unfamiliar with how human connection works. (How else to explain the people who use your name in every other sentence?) *

    ARRRRGGHHH! I hate these, I hate them I hate them. I KNOW what my name is, and you aren’t creating rapport by using it every other word, you are irritating the sh1t out of me and making me vow not to use your company or your services. Every time.

    1. Squeeble*

      For real. People don’t constantly use my name in conversation ordinarily, so when someone does, it’s VERY obvious and off-putting.

    2. Nita*

      Thank you, Dale Carnegie, for that weird trend with the names, and probably for the whole idea of networking as it exists today (was it a big thing before he wrote his books?)

    3. Adonday Veeah*

      My fave is when they use my name in every other sentence… and they have my name wrong.

      “Hi, Aderndl. Good to see you. Did you see the last segment, Aderndl? Wasn’t it great, Aderndl?”

      1. Khlovia*

        “I have no idea whom you’re talking to. I don’t know anybody named Aderndl, and I have to go be in another part of the room now.”

  12. Midlife Job Crisis*

    I’m guilty of this behavior, to some extent, but I was out of work for a long time and having no luck finding a job. My work situation is a bit better. I respect their privacy and boundaries, but it was also frustrating to hear the suggestion of reaching out to a contact and then hearing nothing back at all.

  13. Tiny_Tiger*

    The one and only time I’ve encountered an “aggressive” networker like this was when someone called into the company I was working as a receptionist for, basically demanding to talk to one of the hiring managers. He started off pleasant enough asking if we had any open sales positions, I checked with the manager to be sure, and told him “Unfortunately, we don’t at this time.” Before I could get another word out he comes back with “Well, are YOU one of the people who makes those decisions?” in a really snotty tone. I was so taken aback that I just squeaked out a no and told him to check the positions available online. Later I really wished I would have told him “Nope, I’m just the person you need to get through to talk to a hiring manager.”

  14. Joni*

    Alison, I’d love a guide on “Networking for the rest of us” – how to network when you’re naturally shy/reserved and when approaching people doesn’t come naturally to you. How do you make and foster connections with people without feeling like you’re using them or networking for the sake of networking?

      1. Nita*

        My company had classes on this at one point. Some of the advice was just to put yourself out there a little more, but not do anything that feels unnatural. For example, you go to a meeting or a presentation – don’t just sit in a corner. Instead, introduce yourself to the other team/whoever you’re sitting next to, ask them what they do, maybe get a card for future reference (that’s not really a must these days, thanks to LinkedIn). And then maybe one day, you will have a reason to reach out to them about some opportunity – and this doesn’t have to be something they can do for you, it may just as well be something you can do for them. I guess it’s not high-powered networking, but it does have its place.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      I joke that I network by only talking to people I already know, but that really *is* networking in a professional context. And at a conference, I saw an old coworker who introduced me to their boss and we got talking about [I don’t remember but it was industry-geekery.] I didn’t have to approach anyone cold.

      Someone did approach me after a session! I apparently was nodding and raising my eyebrows that she saw me as a running commentary on what was helpful or unhelpful in the session, and she handed me her card and said she wanted to talk to me because I clearly know the topic inside and out.

      The less assertive version of that is to approach someone who asked a question that you have thoughts on, or also have questions about, and chat with them. So, all of this is in a conference context (or similar).

      Networking happy hours? No. My time is too precious for those. Yours is too, I’m sure.

  15. Triple Anon*

    Yeah, it’s weird. It can be a useful thing when someone just doing it to remember your name. But, having had it done to me in a condescending and creepy way, it pushes my buttons. I’m trying to become more aware of those innocuous things that set me on edge so that I can ignore it or say something in a friendly way at the time. (“I’m sorry! The grouchy reaction was unintended. That means something different where I come from and it caught me off guard.”)

    1. Triple Anon*

      This was supposed to be a response to a comment about when people repeat your name every other sentence so that they can remember it. I’m not sure what happened.

    2. zaracat*

      I detest it as well. It comes across to me as an implied criticism that you aren’t paying enough attention to them and saying “Look at me when I’m speaking to you!”, a bit like the way parents reel off their children’s full names when they are trying to get their attention or telling them off.

  16. Triple Anon*

    The thing about networking is that you have to come across as confident, like you have something of value to offer the other party, not the other way around. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be shy. You can network while shy. Confidence isn’t really about the tone. It’s about putting the other person first and taking an interest in their business needs.

    When someone hands me their business card without my having asked for it, it’s off-putting. Sometimes even insulting. You have to wait for them to ask, or offer it politely. “Would you like to exchange cards? It would be great to keep in touch.” But don’t ask for anything. Let them talk and then bring up your skills naturally, suggesting that you could help. “Yes, I know a lot about those kinds of projects! Have you looked into XYZ? That’s the method I’ve often used. I’d have to look at it before saying more, but XYZ is a good place to start.” Then they ask for your card and then you can talk about employment!

    (Sigh. I’m killing time here when I should be out networking.)

  17. Mockingjay*

    Weird networking/referral story:

    Early in my career, I got a job at the biggest employer in the area. (Good company, good benefits, clear ladder to move up.) I lived and worked in the same area as my college. Somehow the Alumni and the Career offices at my Alma mater found out where I was working and gave my name as a networking reference – without my knowledge. Suddenly I was inundated with cold phone calls and resumes from recent grads and soon-to-be grads wanting placements at my company. I finally quizzed one of the callers who explained the reference. I was doing proposal editing/writing, and the college assumed that meant hiring as well (upon contract award).

    Now, I am very happy to help out fellow humans. But at this particular point in my career, I was a peon at the lowest rung of the ladder with barely 2 years of experience and no standing whatsoever to recommend or place people for jobs. The HR recruiter was quite puzzled as to why I had more referrals than him.

    I finally called my college and asked them to kindly stop giving out my name. Moral of the story: When networking, please be sure that the object of your attentions is AWARE of the connection and is in a position to be of value.

    1. Triple Anon*

      I think that this is one reason that networking works best when it’s done in person or in a very relaxed, social way. When it begins with a friendly two way conversation and you know the other person wants to talk to you. Cold calling rarely works. I’ve gotten more job leads just by hanging out in bars and making small talk.

  18. Where's My Coffee?*

    I blame misleading job-hunting books and sites. They post questionable stats about “most jobs never being posted” and paint a picture that no one has ever gotten a job without a contact. And yes, networking now seems to mean “bother someone incessantly to get you a job or buy some terrible product.”

  19. Green Goose*

    #1 One of my former PTers was looking for FT work and I was his reference. One place called and I gave him a glowing review and the interviewer started asking more and more questions about my organization which seemed normal for a reference call until he pivoted into a hard sell for my organization to use his companies recruiters. I was gobsmacked. I politely declined but he kept pushing me to agree to a time for his manager to “stop by and drop off a business card” wth! I had to say no three times before he finally stopped asking, and that night I got linkedin notifications that people at his company were looking at my profile. I was so annoyed, like getting catfished.

    #2 I also taught English in South Korea for a few years so people would reach out to me for informational interviews about how to get a job there, what life was like, how to read a work contract etc. I was happy to help people to a point but some people would leap on my initial help and then send me email after email, asking questions that were googleable. But the worst was one guy who I helped quite extensively since he was a friend of a friend, I read through contracts for him and helped him find a job in addition to answering many email questions.

    Months later, I actually had a question that I needed his help with because a visa renewal process had changed since I had originally entered the country and he had entered on the new visa system. And guess what? No response. I was pretty mad because networking shouldn’t be so one-sided.

    1. Anon for this one*

      #1 – was that Aerotek? Their recruiters get judged on some metric that includes how many meetings they have with potential clients. My last boss used to get hounded by them for “stop by for 5 minutes” meetings, even after he made it abundantly clear that we didn’t need to hire any more temps.

      1. Green Goose*

        It wasn’t Aerotek, it was a company I hadn’t heard of until I looked them up afterward, it was something like Global Tech Recruiting. But what was interesting is when he first called he said he worked for “Global Tech” and left out the “Recruiting” part.

  20. Nicole*

    Alison just wondering, in the examples you shared in that article, were they all women? Seems like a lot of them were, and certain stories set off alarm bells in my head. The behavior of some of these people sounds like full-on stalking to me, like fear-for-your-safety stalking (finding out your husband’s name and place of employment even though you don’t share his surname? SCARY). Something very important to note if you’re networking—don’t act like a psycho! And if someone is acting like this towards you please follow your gut if you feel unsafe and don’t engage them just for the sake of being polite!

  21. Serin*

    For anyone like me who’s an introvert and lacks the primate instinct for this kind of alliance-building, I really liked Ann Baber’s book “Strategic Connections” — it was more specific about how to open conversation and how to do follow-up than most of those kinds of books are.

    One thing the author said that really struck me is that introverts put a lot of effort into *ending* conversations, and we may not even notice that we’re doing this until our goal is to make a conversation last longer.

    She literally gives step-by-step instructions on how to do introductions.

  22. Michaela Westen*

    I think the people who network like this are the same ones who are pushy, rude salesmen, or alternative practitioners who think their method cures everything, or…

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