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Schmooze, Whether You Like It or Not

Schmooze, Whether You Like It or Not

By Lindsey Gerdes, Businessweek

Finding an “In”

But what about those who are just starting out and don’t have a job—especially one that offers ready-made networking opportunities? Even if you are already gainfully employed, chances are you aren’t the one getting your butt kissed. Networking can seem particularly one-sided and forced at this point in one’s career. It’s hard not to feel like you’re using the other person and that you have nothing tangible to offer in return.

“I would say networking with your peers is easy and natural,” says Erica, 25. "But networking with those people in influential positions is a lot harder because everyone wants to speak with them and usually you need an “in” to even get them to meet with you."

These types of feelings make some people avoid networking altogether—much to their detriment. And then there are those who play the game a little too well. We all know them.

Much like the schmoozalicious guy who spoke at my junior high, every word that comes out of their mouths seems overly calculated and rehearsed. I have one acquaintance who does it so effortlessly that you get the feeling he would schmooze his own grandmother.

“So, Grams, it’s going well. I’m putting together a big deal at work. How are you? Got the birthday money. Very nice. What about an even $500, though? I kid, I kid.” But he’d secretly mean it.

A Genuine Schmooze

The challenge then is twofold: to make networking appear natural and actually feel authentic as well. Instead of canvassing the room and exchanging as many business cards as possible, young professionals should focus on “deep connections,” recommends Marty Nemko, PhD, voted “The Bay Area’s Best Career Coach” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and author of Cool Careers for Dummies.

But how meaningful can a connection really be after a single 10-minute conversation? Very, says Nemko, who counsels clients to focus on identifying someone’s hot-button issue (i.e., something that’s important to them), as an entrée into establishing a bond that will lead to future interactions—and possible opportunities to help one another in a professional capacity.

He also says that to do this and make a genuine connection, both parties should be unafraid to expose weakness. “You are on a treasure hunt to identify that which is critical for that person,” says Nemko, who champions this approach for all types of interactions, be they in the supermarket or an actual networking event.

Guidance Counselors

This point seems somewhat counterintuitive for young professionals in conversing with more experienced peers. After all, don’t you want to prove to people who could possibly help you that you are a promising—and poised—up-and-comer for whom they should want to go to bat? In an interaction that already feels one-sided—they’re gifting you with their knowledge, etc.—why put yourself at an even greater disadvantage and come across as weak?

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