10.28.2009

Why We Hate DC, Reason #1: The "networking" blowhard

Note: These are not 'ranked' in any way. This is the first one I wrote about, so it's #1.

If you consider yourself a young professional in D.C., then you know exactly what I'm talking about. Have you ever been invited to go to a "networking" happy hour, or any sort of "networking" event?

If you're like me, you hate the entire idea of these sorts of things. Does anyone really believe that some dude you meet at a happy hour and exchange your "program assistant" business cards with will really be able to get you a job somewhere? There are a few problems with this logic, the first being that anyone who has the power to truly influence hiring decisions won't be going to a networking event at the Front Page. Second, if you do have any sort of influence at your organization, you aren't going to go out on a limb for someone you barely know. Third, the economy is in the toilet and there's 500 people applying for every job opening in this town.

As such, these events are often attended by the person I'll describe as the professional networking blowhard. This is the guy (or girl) who absolutely has to tell you about how amazing his job is, and how much he has accomplished in the 23 years he has been alive. Did you know that he went backpacking in Asia and is so tired of seeing temples that he will be happy if he never sees one ever again? Also, when he studied at Oxford, his flatmate from Mehhh-He-Ko (Mexico) taught him about the perils of the Zapatistas? What does he do now? Well, he works on an important program at [prominent non-profit]. You've never even heard of where he works, but don't worry, he'll tell you all about it. If you work for another non-profit, or a government agency, he'll have a story about how just the other day he ran into the executive director (or cabinet secretary) of where you work. "Yeah, I totally ran into Secretary Chu downtown and we talked about renewable energy. He's a nice guy."

But you're just jealous of his success!

Nope. In my experience the people who you actually want to meet, and actually want to make "connections" with are too busy actually doing things to attend some sort of grown-up equivalent of a high school mixer. The people who are making a difference and who may be in a position to help you make a difference as well don't go around talking about their epic life experience. You'll find the real people to "network" with at events that have some sort of meaning, or that revolve around something you are actually interested in. Reach out to people who write things you enjoy reading. Attend a community meeting about a topic that you feel is important. Volunteer for something that's a bit obscure and isn't filled only with people trying to deal with liberal guilt.

Of course the networking blowhard isn't endemic to D.C. They likely exist in many cities. However, the nature of D.C. seems to encourage their development. We have a constant rat race, with everyone trying to gauge how they stack up. You have a whole bunch of people who were told they would change the world and they don't know how to play nice in the sandbox once they realize they aren't actually that special. You think you've got a good job that makes a difference? Well, there's always somebody doing more. No matter who you are. Need confirmation of that? Just remember that arguably the most powerful person on the entire planet lives just down the street from you.

Verdict: This personality trait is often cited as one of the reasons why people hate living in D.C. You seemingly can't go anywhere, to a bar, a restaurant, or a party without meeting this person. This is a justifiable reason to cite when expressing discontent about our city. However, this person can be avoided. Shy away from any sort of activity that is billed as a networking event. Shy away from any sort of forced socialization that is branded as a way to meet people who can help "develop your career." The person who is going to help you get the job you dream of, or help you start a new business is probably somewhere working on something they think is important. You won't find them drinking the $3 rail drink special in a suit and tie spouting off stories about that time they met Tony Blair on the lift.

You're in America now jackass, it's called an elevator.

29 comments:

  1. LOL! This post is the reason why I keep coming back. Classic and honest truth. I absolutely hate networking. It was thrown around in Chicago as well. I moved here three years ago and noticed immediately that this city has a penchant for it like no other. It almost gives me the "willies". Thanks for the chuckle.

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  2. This is precisely on point:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5QvSoRQrVJg

    At the three minute mark, it becomes apparent that the of pinnacle story telling in social settings can only be reached by a dozen men.

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  3. Wow, an actual hating dc post!

    Re: networking events. I think you are being far too literal. It's just not appropriate to describe something as a "drunk hookup" event. Nothing sinister going on here.

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  4. There is more to networking events than trying to find a better job. I work in banking and its often about finding people that you can work with to create a better customer experience, or find a referral source, or make a friend in your field that you can talk business with over beers, etc. I think the fact that you framed the entire article around using networking event to advance yourself speaks volumes about who you are and what you are about professionally. Some people just use these events to become better at their job and more valuable to their organization.

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  5. swift207, I think you may have just outed yourself a networking blowhard.

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  6. Couldn't agree more. Any sort of networking or forced-socialization event is an automatic "Hell No" for me. I don't even like the division meetings at my office, having to listen to the chief bang on about how wonderful "we" -- who's this "we," honey? -- have done.

    I don't want to network. I want to do my job, go home to the wife, watch some football, and have a beer and a smoke. Not listen to some asshat going on about how Douches Without Borders is so very important. It's one thing, among millions, about the DC area I can't stand, because it's much worse than any other city I've spent any time in. It's like living in a city of 20-something David Broder wannabes.

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  7. You're in America now jackass, it's called an elevator. Hilarious.

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  8. Spot on analysis. Just look at how many business networking groups have formed on Meetup.

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  9. These types of mixers are social events, hardly a way to move up in the DC foodchain. Getting in the door means finding the right hard-working person in the organization, who is isolated and overworked, and making a positive impression through electronic communication. The real decison-makers don't go to these types of events since they just don't have the time. Trust me, I have been here 20+ years and know the routine.

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  10. An element of your story is this is how most political appointees in the executive branch and the younger staff in the Congress actually behave. Maybe one "good" thing about this behavior is that it's bipartisan?

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  11. Someone told me networking 101 at mixers was to eat/drink with your left hand, so your right was dry, etc., when shaking hands. But I like to break this "rule," so my right is wet from condensation and dusted with an assortment of scattered cracker crumbs so when I meet blowhards they quickly judge me and turn away.

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  12. I hate networking events, too. Good stuff. Also, "Douches Without Borders" = A+.

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  13. Swift207's comment was hilarious. Swift207 for president.

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  14. Second the vote of confidence on "Douches without Borders." Though I still think that "Segway Abortion" from your previous post about those new police 3-wheeler MPVs is possibly the funniest new terminology I've seen this year.

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  15. How do you know so much about networking events?

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  16. If you don't know which layer of the OSI model you're talking about, you're not networking.

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  17. hahah, buenisimo the entire entry!

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  18. Excellent. Though a piece of advice. The person you want to meet at those things are lingering by the bar because they were there for the specials.

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  19. There is one worse thing than the young professional networking blowhard: the older professional networking blowhard, male, age 35-60 and somewhere between running to softness and outright corpulent, who name-drops and mentions all the cool possessions he's bought with all the money that he makes, in order to pick up 20something women.

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  20. why put such effort into writing such a negative article? be happy. avoid the overly political, elitist, brown nosing know-it-alls. there are plenty of good people to meet in this city. don't sweat the petty, pet the sweaty :)

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  21. Wow, I thought I was the only one !

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  22. Well I never assisted to any "networking" party... I don't really see what is the big thing, yes, it sounds a little blasphemous to imagine, but you know what my brother, things change and coincidently, habits do too...

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  23. AnonymousJune 23, 2011

    haters in the building. bumm bumm bummmmmm

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  24. I like their mans suit wear best dress code.

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  25. Yes, of course I've attended to a happy hour and that'0s terrific because we can take advantage of all things people talk there, specially when it is something related to business.

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  26. Personally, I love DC and because I can network effectively I found a way to earn a position with an organization.

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  27. These events can be silly or full of vacuous ladder climbers, but I've found jobs and clients through networking events.

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  28. This is a very negative article. Although I agree that many of these networking events can't always get you a job or link you up with top execs. They can be rather helpful if you know how to network. I know a lot of people are going to hate what I'm about to say next but I'm a really charismatic and outgoing person and I never had a problem with networking and turning them into opportunities. You meet the people and then you form a relationship with them so that they get to know you. And you also have to realize that the key is not to meet the big shots at a networking event, the key is to meet as many people within in your field as possible to create your credibility and a name for yourself. By the time enough people know who you are and what you do, it will be easier for you to be recommended to someone who is a big shot. Networking is not a magic bullet that gets you straight to the top. I have many friends, including myself who made great connections and got great job opportunities through networking. You have to work it to your advantange, you can't just show up, talk to people, then expect instant results...but most people aren't savy enough to realize this...hence this article.

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