uuugh, schmoozing.
November 15, 2009 8:55 AM   Subscribe

On the receiving end of lots of business 'networking' for the first time. How to deal with it?

The department I work in has been searching for a head. This has been a national search, and has generated a great deal of attention in my profession, especially locally.

I am relatively young for the position I occupy, but am at the moment the most senior in my department. My question has to deal with being on the receiving end of people 'networking'. This is the first time I've had to deal with it. People have been coming out of the woodwork over the last few months asking about the job to me, making sure with me personally that their materials are in good hands, doing the 'wink, wink, I'd be perfect for this job.' Or the 'Hey! It's been forever, how's life? Oh yea, is that position still open?' Or gleaning information from general chit chat at events and contacting my boss about the position (this was before it was posted, I was just describing that our department had been without a head for quite a while, not a big deal that I divulged this).

Now I know, this probably sounds like your general business networking. But it's making me pretty uncomfortable, because it ranges from former colleagues to people internationally recognized in the field. It kind of puts me on the spot, and puts me in a weird position to react or accommodate them, even though it's not my decision (although I am part of the interviewing process). So anyways, how do you deal with schmoozing, ranging from subtle to very overt. It's also just a weird dynamic because this position is for my boss. How should I take it when I realize that conversations are turning into just what this person wants out of me. It all feels very insincere and like I'm being used for a foot in the door. I know this won't be the last time in my career I'll have to deal with this, so I better learn now.

Thoughts, stories, wisdom, much appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (4 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
You are being used as a foot in the door. And one day, you will be able to tap each of these people for a leg up into another position when you need it. This is why it's called networking; these people are reaching out to you as part of their network but you are not noting or valuing that they are part of your network, too, and this will be handy for you at some point when you need to reach out and call someone for no other reason than that there's a gig you're interested in going at their place.

It is, as you say, not your decision so there is no harm in being as accommodating as possible. They are not doing anything unusual, bad or unethical in business circles. It's just uncomfortable for you since you've never had to deal with this before.

So I would develop a standard strategy to deal with all comers. Something like:

"Oh, yes, it's still open and we're still recruiting. Have you seen the job description on our site? I'm not making the final hire decision but I know the committee is looking for someone with a strong background in X (give a little more detail than the job spec), and a good skillset in Y. Have you put your application in yet? Send it to me and I'll make sure it gets in the right hands."

That's it. That's all you have to do. Then just add them to the pile that gets circulated.

In other words, there is no need to fend this off. It's not a bad thing and is in fact a very important skill to develop because you will be on both ends of this dance for your entire career.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:21 AM on November 15, 2009 [5 favorites]

There's a position open at my job right now. I find I'm most helpful in making suggestions/speaking about things they should think about in preparing a strong application. For example, many people don't realize that we usually get so many applications for positions that cover letters are super helpful, particularly if they explain why the person is interested in our specific position. (At my organization, people can generally apply and then check all positions that apply, which means you never really know if the person is interested in our position, or just clicking randomly. People who include tailored cover letters therefore have a leg up.)

Also, like DarlingBri said, in senior positions there are a lot of requested skill sets, but it helps when someone tells you which ones are most important. "Yes, administrative/supervisory management skills are important, but the person in this position will need to develop and implement a strategic vision in the next 1-3 years, so any experience you have with that should probably be discussed on your resume/cover letter".

Everything DarlingBri said is pretty much spot on - if you aren't able to 'get it into the right hands', if would help if you could share anything you know about the process so they be sure it gets to the right hands. For example, when people apply online they don't know that HR doesn't vet at all - they just hold on to them and send them up to the hiring person in bundles of about 5-10 people. The hiring person then can start selecting candidates at any time, so it's a good idea to get one's resume in early. Also, one probably won't get a note that says we received their application, so please try not to be offended by that. And if you know anything about the interview process, feel free to share - for example, is it a one day or two day interview? Who might the person meet?

I find in general, I try to share the same information with everyone. The savvy ones know how to use the information, and the non-savvy ones just keep insisting that I get it to the hiring person's hands, not realizing that without this other information, it will just go to the hiring person's hands and then to the waste bin, because they haven't used the information to present themselves as a strong candidate. I really am interested in there being a strong person in the position, so anything I can do to help that happen is a plus for me.

So yeah, set expectations about what you can and can't do, share equally, but limit yourself to how much time you really have to field all of these questions. I think this is the basis for professional collegiality.
posted by anitanita at 9:46 AM on November 15, 2009

It all feels very insincere and like I'm being used for a foot in the door.

That's probably true, and you probably are. Welcome to any position of (perceived) power! You may be young for your post (--trial by fire’s a great career trajectory, btw, congratulations!--), but if the position is yours, you're going to have to toughen up and get used to the shmoozing and the sycophants because this is a natural part of the landscape in so many fields. Yes, it's annoying, and yes, it can also be stressful (at least it was for me--a semi-introvert previously used to being unfailingly polite and helpful as a rule). Bottom line: You can’t accommodate everyone, and you’ve no obligation to accommodate anyone. Accept those social invitations that you might at all genuinely enjoy, and do help others wherever you can do so with a minimum of inconvenience to you and to your job responsibilities, which I am assuming extend beyond gatekeeping.
posted by applemeat at 9:58 AM on November 15, 2009

I am doing this a lot right now: putting my friends, former coworkers, and acquaintances on the receiving end of networking requests. I am dissatisfied with where I am in my career and a lot of friends whom I respect as professionals are not, so I am talking to them.

While I do hope that any of them would put in a good word for me, should they be in a position to, I am not trying to connect/network with them simply so they will find me a job or hire me. I am hoping they will mention to me if they hear about an opportunity; I am hoping they will introduce me to people they think have something in common (professionally) with me; I am hoping they will invite me to get involved in their pro bono projects which could use the skills they know I have.

I am also looking for insight into what I'm doing wrong. Suggestions how to present myself better. That's different from your situation (hey, is that particular job still open? what should I know about it?) but it is all part of the same general professional process. It's been really hard for me to make that mental shift. To see it as conversations, as relationship and skill building and not sychophantry or begging, but when I look back at my career, I realize that of the three jobs I really loved, that really fit with my personality and what I want out of my professional life, two came from friends or friends of friends who knew I was looking. For most people, that's the way it works. So, I try to keep that line of communication open, not to use the people around me, but because if I keep those connections live, good matches will get made in the world. Maybe I will benefit, maybe I won't. When I can help in return, I absolutely will.

I think you should try to take it that way. Be polite and sincere and give as much time to the particular person as you want to (or don't want to). Make it less about getting This Person that Job and make it about learning who is doing what in your profession, who is available to do what in your profession. Use it as a moment to learn how people perceive your job and your organization. Be grateful you're where other people think they want to be and be generous. It doesn't hurt you and chances are really good you didn't get where you are without someone liking you.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:03 PM on November 15, 2009

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