Monday, August 13, 2007

Confessions of (Recovering) a Networking Addict

When I was displaced from my job late last year, the employment coaching consultants preached many things: upscale your clothing (the tech-geek uniform of jeans and collared shirts doesn't work during an interview); maintain your grooming (dye, trim, clip, and polish body areas appropriately); and network, network, network because "95% of all jobs are found through networking."

Holy cow pies, Moonshine. Network? Uhm. Maybe you've not gotten it yet, but I'm not exactly the warm fuzzy type. And you want me to talk to people? People as in bipeds? Let me tell you, there's a reason I prefer to work in technology groups for companies that are geographically distributed.
  1. I'm female, which already gives me an edge, mainly in the unpopular Affirmative Action way.
  2. For a female in technology, I'm relatively hot. [Bear in mind "relatively".]
  3. I'm in technology and have a personality and a sense of humor. [Mark one more for the Willowbottom-meister.]
  4. My social skills are at least equal if not better than those with whom I work. [Be afraid, be very afraid.]
  5. I never work with real, live, real-time people in my same location. [So yes, there are days when I can work in my pajamas at home and no one knows.]

Basically, where I work and in what I do, I need to exert very little effort to be the most personable, attractive, and charming cream of the crop. And now, you dare to suggest that I network, as in real time with other human beings who may not shop the clothing line of ThinkGeek.com? Oh, dear.

So, the consultant recommended we start our networking journey by getting an account at LinkedIn.

Whew! That was a relief. I thought you were going to suggest I apply makeup and go to cocktail mixers.

Well, the consultant suggested that, too, but I think she realized that for some of us, it's baby steps.

So, I got a LinkedIn account and got totally sucked into it. This was surprising for someone who snottily has eschewed Yahoo! 360* and Facebook and MySpace for so long as Web sites for attention-hungry twits. But yet, here I was ravenous to do as much as possible -- post my resume, solicit recommendations for my past work, etc. Social and professional networking applications have wet dreams about over-achievers like me who determine our own self-worth by how many contacts we have. At first, I was demure, waiting for people to invite me to be one of their "contacts." But I realized that networking is not a place for wallflowers (insofar as anyone who networks behind the shield of a plasma monitor isn't a wallflower). You must be noticed to succeed!

Suddenly, rather than awaiting invitations, I was inviting people to be my contacts from college 11 years ago I'd not spoken to since. Old co-workers who'd been at the same company for 25 years, siblings, professional students, the nanny, even distant relatives who have a Luddite-style aversion to e-mail and would never even see my invitation ... no relationship was too sacred. All I knew is there were people out there who had "500+" contacts and I wasn't yet one of them.

And then it struck me. Most people require a little more of their interpersonal relationships than being contacted whenever they are needed for some reason or other (like a job search). Most don't care for being treated like spices on a kitchen rack: easily pulled out, just as easily shelved. I could add all these people as my contacts, but was I prepared to maintain some semblance of contact with these folks for an indefinite period of time ... even (gasp) forever?

Well, I think we know the answer to that. And so, my visits to LinkedIn immediately became as frequent as when I put eyeshadow on. That is to say, very rare.

So, for the last several months, I've been a recovering networking addict, visiting my profile now and again to keep it updated but really not exerting any effort on this. Hopefully nothing will happen to my situation to belie this self-semi-confident statement, but I've done very well staying employed so far based on the quality of my work alone and my (arguable) charm during interviews. I'd rather try that route than the one I find more painful ... namely, the networking-with-real-live-people part.

My networking inclinations were near dormant until recently when my sorority launched its own networking site. Suddenly, like a hungry koala in search of eucalyptus, my networking urges surged to life again and I felt the flash of adrenaline-fed heat that augurs a competitive race. Here I have a chance to demonstrate my connectedness to my sisters and prove that I am a person worth knowing.

I create my account and immediately begin to add friends. I pause. Wait, think I. Wouldn't a true demonstration of my popularity be if I play hard to get and let them all add me as a friend? Briefly I entertain fantasies last experienced in high school, when I dreamt that as I walked through halls (without a pass, of course) students gaped at my self-confident saunter and the girls cooed appreciatively at my edgy black-and-white tie-dye shirt over my tights and L.A. Gear sneakers. (Yes, I wish I were making that part up.)

In this dream, though, servers crashed and networks clogged due to the number of women sending me "Add as a friend" invitations. Women would ask each other in hushed tones or in furtive e-mail messages, "Has she accepted you yet?" "No, not me either." Meanwhile, my profile would be the among the ones with the highest hits, so much so that when my sorority recruits new members every semester, they would list me as a famous member based on my sorority network hit count, along with the noted actresses, Olympians, and philanthropists. "Oh, yes," the 19-year-olds gasp in breathily excited but hushed tones, "SHE is one of our most respected members. She only accepts a very few as her friends, you know." Of course, they would never refer to me by name, as though I'm Lord Voldemort and far too awe-inspiring.

As I awake from my reverie, I'm pragmatic enough to be sardonically amused at my own shallow aspirations that, no matter how humorously presented, may have some small sliver of sincere desire. Yet, I recognize that I really am too people-shy and opinionated (and really too lazy) to ever be the Networking Pontiff, whether of my sorority or the professional world. And I don't think I really want to change, either.

So I've let it go a few days since I actually logged into any networking site and I take some small pleasure in being choosy about who may connect to me. For those connection-hungry networkers who aspire to have the "500+" symbol by their LinkedIn profile, they'll need to create some story a little bit more unique than they also used to work at the same mega-sized corporation I did. And please ... make up a good story, like about some night in some pub where I wore a chartreuse feather boa made of emu feathers and danced to the Macarena while listing off the names of the British monarchs from 1066-1603 and you and I conversed about the witty appropriateness of the word abecedarian. Then I might connect with you.

1 comment:

Judy said...

You are an excellent writer. I enjoyed reading your blog. You should consider writing a book. Very entertaining!

PS- Remember the bar scene in the downtown area of a small town, which shall remain nameless? Dancing. Drinking. Pool table. Need I say more?