Maya Chendke is the author of Awake but Dreaming, a novel that will make you regret wishing to be famous. She’s passionate about self-publishing, cars, and volunteering. When not writing, she studies at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto. Follow her quirky thoughts @mayachendke.
One of the most common goals that I’m hearing is the hope to improve networking skills. As young professionals with diverse careers, the game isn’t about knowing every fish in your industry pond any more. It’s about knowing people from different paths and scoping out new directions you might take, and being open to the possibility of more when the right fit presents itself.
We spend a lot of time developing contacts in our respective companies, occasionally at a distance with competitors. But when we meet new people through mutual contacts, we’re suddenly put in a mindset of categorizing them as either: “useful professionally,” “waste of time,” or “maybe I like them in a sexy way.”
The last category is concerning because it forces upon us a very knee-jerk evaluation of the person in a dating respect. If there’s no move from him to take your number, or from her to hint that she’d love to check out the Thai place you’re discussing…then we feel slighted or confused. But in reality, no one is walking around with an Avery label on their forehead that discloses current circumstances. We are programmed to assume that just because someone is talking to us, that they’re interested in us romantically (or carnally). The most networking-savvy people out there have a secret I’m gonna let you in on…
That’s not true.
As a young professional, you talk to other people to assess mutual synergies. We all carry around multiple projects and interests that can benefit from the alignment with someone relevant, so the expectation that every person you talk to is someone of “interest” is just ridiculous. Some people use this front maliciously, but it’s up to you to maintain detachment and to realize that conversation doesn’t necessarily equate interest.
I once had a situation where I met an interesting gentleman out one evening, and although contacts were exchanged after friendly banter, we kept things professional. At the time, I didn’t know he had gone through a bad break up, nor did he know that I was geographically undesirable. We just had similar career interests and recognized something valuable in the other. Because I vanquished the thought of “he’s talking to me, this must mean something,” I approached our interactions on a platonic level. None of that angling or game playing that usually plagues us. And through him, I met another person I became legitimately interested in. The opportunity of more blesses us when we just become open to expanding our networks with good intentions.
If you put your foot in your mouth (or the p in the v), then you limit the potential with your new contact in damaging, damaging ways. This is relevant to all spheres, not just vocational networking. I took this approach when starting my MBA classes (because goodness knows what’s going to happen by graduation day!).
This might seem a little Maya-vellian, but I’m a vocal advocate of “you never know who you will meet through someone.” By slamming this concept at my friends, I’ve seen them end up meeting much better people through their alternate networks (instead of dwelling on their first point of contact and forcing something to manifest). Think of it like following dating breadcrumbs. You meet new people, make new friends, and eventually through the mix and mingle a person who is a great fit for you finds their way into your heart.
All you have to do is make sure you’re open to this happening, and that you’re ready when it does, because there’s only so much goodness your professional network can juice out organically. Don’t pass up a great contact but – most of all – don’t mess with a great contact.
- Maya Chendke