Hope for the Awkward Networker

By Zan Parker on September 5, 2012

Photo taken by Shiny Things from flikr.com

Most recently, I was approached in the cafeteria by an uncomfortable looking boy with floppy hair. “Are you sitting alone? Would you like some company?” he asked. When I consented, he plopped down in the seat across from me and watched me eat my omelet. He squirmed. He determinedly stared deep into my eyes, as though I might jump up and run if he looked away. He lavished complements in that trying-to-be-smooth way that embarrassed me for him. “Freshman?” I asked.

Networking, whether in search of a future job, a future mate, or just a friendly face to stand out from the crowd, is not a task for the awkward. As an introvert, I’m not sure which is worse; being without companions, or enduring the discomfort of searching for them. Over my undergraduate career, I’ve developed enough confidence and radar for appropriate timing to have a respectable social life. But until that point,I, like my new lunchroom friend, simply had to bite the bullet and look ridiculous.

And then came “Networking Night” for the Clemson Calhoun Honors College. Students crowded into McKissick Theatre, uncomfortable and looking around for the promised t-shirts and pizza the e-mails had advertised. Meanwhile, Hawken Brackett, an employee at the career center, stepped to the podium to remind everyone why networking is necessary. “Most jobs come from people-connections,” he chanted. “You shouldn’t only network when you look for a job… you should network ALL THE TIME.” I felt that old, familiar, how-dare-you-be-an-introvert guilt begin to creep in. As a senior graduating in December, have I blown it?

Then Brackett came to the rescue, clarifying that networking is not just about establishing new contacts all the time. It’s about going deeper with the relationships already surrounding you. “Keep in touch with people. Don’t just use them for what you think you might need,” he recommended. I suddenly remembered the time a couple years ago when a visit to an old high school teacher led to the dream of working at a certain theatre. Later a professor’s support coincided with an academic interest, which led to a conference, which led to a second conference, which led to a summer internship at the aforementioned theatre. I realized that I don’t have to be loud and pushy to get a job. I don’t have to accost every visiting speaker with the sole intention of leaving an impression. I just have to do my current job with integrity and care about the people that surround me. That’s my kind of networking.

On my way out of the workshop, I encountered two international students studying a map in the lobby. Feeling empowered to approach strangers, I asked if I could help them find something. They told me their destination, and embarassed, I had to admit I didn’t know where that was. “It’s okay,” they told me, and proceeded to give me directions. I guess I haven’t outgrown my inner ‘awkward networker’ after all.

By

Uloop Writer
I love God, theatre, nature, and language.

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