Networking event for the notworking… more unemployment fun

What networking looks like for kids at Wal-mart.

What networking looks like for kids at Wal-mart.

I hate networking events. Let me rephrase that. I despise networking events as the unholy creations they are. They fall somewhere below gefilte fish and riding the 7 express train during rush hour on a rainy day after a service delay. I’d rather perform an emergency tracheotomy on myself with a Bic pen. The what-I-despise-most scale is of course slightly less than scientific. But networking events are a proven tactic in the job search, and can lead to valuable contacts and even those job thingumajigs people keep talking about. I take part whenever I can bring myself to.

Good intentions always lead me to sign up; this will be the one with all the job openings and recruiters offering six-digit salaries. But I often manage to talk myself out of going the day of. Pouring over job postings for wavers on Craigslist suddenly becomes way more urgent than hobnobbing with people who might get me work. This time I convinced myself to go. Event organizer, The 405 Club, is a quality unemployment site that deserves my support. The Search Engine Strategies conference, which has kept me from jobsearching and blogging all week, was only three stops away, killing the travel excuse. And most of all, I am unemployed.

Success at a networking event is largely about selling yourself, face-to-face, in a few minutes and a few sentences, while wearing nicer clothes. It’s important to come prepared with an elevator pitch or talking points and then be strategic and forthright in starting conversations… and ending them. Experts recommend keeping conversations short and on topic, engaging and purposeful. The goal is to find those few who can help you by having meaningful conversations with lots of people.

The talking points have been in my back pocket for years. They’re so ingrained that I mutter them when my mind drifts off to its happy place. The strategy is fairly intuitive – talk to the people who can help, whether they are recruiters or contemporaries. You never know who the right person might be. Even conversations, once started, come naturally. I just turn on that Norm charm and bend people to my will. And then I hit them with the Jedi Mind Trick… “You will hire me.” The force is weak in me, so that only gets me a job for about 20 seconds, not long enough to make any money.

Starting and ending conversations is the hard part. I suck at this, always have. Walking up to strangers and trying to get something feels awkward and disingenuous in any environment – reason #142 why I avoid Sales jobs. Then there’s always that irrational yet looming fear of rejection, never mind that everyone else is there to chat too. Naturally cutting off a conversation also seems rude. I feel slighted when it happens to me and mean when I do it to someone else. Why does it have to be like that?

The organizers made it easier to target people, marking job seeker nametags with red stickers and recruiter nametags with green. Colored dots on stickers are a lot easier to distinguish in bar lighting than scrawled names. I spent a good part of the evening trying to decipher names as people had conversations. Aside from a strip club, a networking event may be the only setting where it’s okay to openly concentrate on women’s chests.

I was in the mood to socialize about job-related things, and so was everyone else, it seemed. Desperation brings out the best in people. I met a couple of recruiters, who lamented the dearth of available marketing jobs, killing me a little more inside. I connected with interesting people, including one woman who runs another good unemployment blog called The Art of Out of Work. I tried to convince her to switch to WordPress as a blogging platform. She tried to convince me to attend Meet Ups for bloggers. We each wondered how to make a little money doing something enjoyable. But after working the room and nursing a Diet Coke for a few hours, I’d had enough. My voice and patience for crowds were waning fast. The night was productive, as far as networking goes. The next event will be a little harder to blow off, though my powers of procrastination and avoidance should never be underestimated.

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  1. Rhoby wrote:

    Thanks for the Plug! I enjoyed meeting you at the 405,… interesting to read your post and see what was REALLY on your mind. I thought you were funky, in your own funky way. You must have had your Jedi on! I have not posted today beacuse I have been on WORD PRESS ALL DAY! Thanks for the tip!
    Really nice to meet you.

    Rhoby – The ART of out of Work –

    Friday, March 27, 2009 at 5:48 pm | Permalink
  2. Underemployed wrote:

    Let me share my new reality with you. Just accepted a “part-time” job making less than half of what I was making. Its an entry level mediocre sales position with a luxury consumer item that NO ONE WANTS right now. I am expected to see over 20 clients a day. In my career, I “skipped” over this type of position, because of my education and experience. It is EXTREMELY humbling and frustrating. I put the “part-time” because thats what they called it, but somehow I am working a little over 40 hours a week. I suppose its a loop hole as to not pay me health insurance. My back aches, my feet have blisters and I am bitter. Today I went on a job interview with someone in my industry. He was quite the bigshot and his house is in the upper 400’s. He just took this shitty district manager job where I doubt he makes over 50k a year. This is the new reality. What say you?

    Friday, March 27, 2009 at 8:34 pm | Permalink
  3. Norm wrote:

    I hate to say it, but I think there’s been a shift. I don’t think it will be forever. But it will be for the near future. What you’re going through could be my reality too at some point, and that definitely bothers me. Good luck and keep your head up.

    Friday, March 27, 2009 at 11:26 pm | Permalink
  4. ROZ wrote:

    Glad to see that gefilte fish doesn’t receive your lowest rating.

    Friday, March 27, 2009 at 11:38 pm | Permalink
  5. Norm wrote:

    It’s pretty close though. There were some bad experiences when I waited tables in high school.

    Friday, March 27, 2009 at 11:56 pm | Permalink
  6. Underemployed wrote:

    It just gets worse… Im tied into a lease right now. I cant afford to buy a car and if I could, I wouldnt get approved since I Just got my house out of foreclosure and my credit is shoddy. I cant sell my house nor could I rent anywhere because of my credit, and cant afford a move anyway. So im stuck. I got approved on a 6 figure income and now I am making less than half. I dont know what else to do, since I have negotiated with my creditors already, need this car for my “sales” job. Im still short every month. Eventually Ill have to let the house go, and then Ill be homeless because I essentially have no where to go.

    Saturday, March 28, 2009 at 1:17 pm | Permalink
  7. FiredForNow wrote:

    Norm – I love gefilte fish. I hate networking. It’s about small talk instead of small fish. Small fish is yummier. And it’s strange but I usually am not eating it with strangers I don’t care about but with a huge group of family and friends at a seder.
    Loved your piece.
    best, ffn

    Saturday, March 28, 2009 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

4 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. JoblessandLess (Norm Elrod) on Friday, March 27, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    New blog post: Networking event for the notworking… more unemployment fun

  2. CaraMandart (CaraMandart) on Saturday, March 28, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    Hilarious Blog “Networking while jobless, or Notworking” by a NYC guy who’s unemployed. I totally relate to this.

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