Early Career

How to Take the Pressure out of Networking

“Networking” used to have a prominent place on my list of dirty words; I saw it as a cringe-worthy activity you engaged in while exchanging contact information and phony smiles.  It implied a certain level of back-scratching, schmoozing, and a lack of authenticity.  The central question of networking alwa

ys seemed to be, “what can you do for me?” With this perception, it’s not surprising I felt a tinge of dread when it was time to attend networking events or when networking was touted as one of the benefits of a particular occasion.  I would roll my eyes, pad-folio and business cards clutched tightly in hand, while mentally preparing myself for the impending onslaught of small talk and elevator pitches.

As a natural extrovert, I have always enjoyed conversing with people in social and professional settings but for some reason was apprehensive whenever I heard the term “networking.”  It grated on me and connoted an expectation that I had to come away with specific action items instead of appreciating the conversation and seeing if it might lead to a more meaningful connection. Luckily for me, and those who interact with me at events, I came to realize that networking was not in fact a dirty word and started to think of it more in terms of merely talking to and getting to know people.  That took off a lot of the pressure and made the entire process much more pleasant for me.

I also recognized there is more to networking than simply “talking shop.”  Some of the greatest conversations I’ve had occurred when more personal topics were peppered in the discussion, including college football (a charged subject here in the Southeast!) and a company representative’s upcoming wedding.  Aside from adding a more human and relaxed element to interactions, these types of exchanges can also help you stand out from the crowd and make you more memorable to the person with whom you’re engaging.   More authentic conversations allow a professional contact or potential employer to see a glimpse of who you are as opposed to only seeing what you are interested in doing professionally.  While performance and competence are baseline for graduates of top MBA programs, cultural fit and alignment of values can be much harder to gauge so making a connection around something other than industry trends and sales forecasts is beneficial to networking endeavors.

As I have shifted my outlook on networking from a forced activity that must be endured to an opportunity to talk to or get to know a person, I have been increasingly more confident in networking situations.  I have even been complimented for being a “good networker” by some of my classmates, a testament to how an adjustment in perspective can alter both behavior and perceptions for the better. Allowing myself to enjoy a conversation rather than feeling obligated to walk away with a tangible outcome has made me more relaxed and afforded me the chance to focus on the interaction instead of feeling weighed down by an unrealistic expectation.  If an exchange leads to a professional contact, potential career opportunity, or the discovery of a shared interest I will certainly be appreciative; but, if not, I likely learned something or was able to practice handling a new situation.

How about you? How have you benefited from looking at networking in a more positive light? I’d love to hear other tips for approaching this critical yet sometimes intimidating business school skill.

Kirsten Reed
Forté Fellow and MBA Candidate 2016
Goizueta Business School (Emory)

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