Let’s All Stop Networking, Shall We?

Photo by  Erin Little

Photo by Erin Little

After just one “networking” event in my early twenties, I swore to never attend another. The cocktails were lousy, the wine list read only red and white. Conversation was contrived and dove straight from small talk to revenue metrics. It seemed the night was an orchestrated excuse for men to violate my personal space and press for trade secrets I didn’t have and, in an entry-level job, would never have had access to anyway. I wrapped five baby quiche in a napkin and called a friend to meet me at a bar across the street.

So-called networking events offer nothing more than a glass of Kirkland wine and a handful of business cards to carry around in your bag for a month and then toss in the bin. These events fail so miserably because their intention is inherently cold.

The idea of “networking” is loaded with agenda. It’s based on a tit-for-tat exchange that regards people as tools—or, in the worst cases, obstacles—to personal advancement.

It’s the same reason we delete cold-calling Facebook messages from the mean girls from our high school days trying to sell us facial cleanser or discount-counter leggings under the guise of “catching up with an old friend.”

As you let go of this networking agenda we’re all so pressed to cultivate, you’ll find that the people who can help you will be quite willing to do so—no bottom-shelf cocktails required. Starting conversations with strangers, continuing conversations with acquaintances, catching up with old friends—it’s born far more career advancement, far more personal advancement, than any conference of networking event could. I learned quickly to replace “networking” with being human.

Americans love to talk about their work. It’s not hard to get someone to talk about what they do, regardless of social situation. The stranger next to you at the bar, the barista foaming your cappuccino, the parents sitting next to you at your kids’ soccer game, the new acquaintances met at a dinner party. Engage your community in conversation—even non-work-related conversation (please do this)—as a means of real connection. The moment you begin to feel yourself “networking,” check that agenda. Remember to be human, seek human connection.

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is on staff at InHerSight.com, where she writes about data and women’s rights.