I have a love/hate relationship with networking. Anyone who has ever looked for a job, particularly in Washington, knows that you really can’t get an interview without networking, and in the political world, networking usually involves donating money or time (I’m not spending my day off answering phones in an office I want to work in-I’m NETWORKING! I didn’t join this liberal political campaign fundraising group because I was suckered into it-I’m NETWORKING!). We’ve all subjected ourselves to awkward galas and “networking happy hours,” where you leave assessing your business cards like points in a Pokemon game (CEO of a major non-profit= +2 points. Skeezy manager of a losing campaign in 2008 who wrote “call my PERSONAL line ” under his name= -1.). Networking at events with an open bar takes the edge off the creepy introductions where you accidently acknowledge that you had already found the person you’re talking to on Linkedin and they are now in your spreadsheet of “People I Want to Meet by December 2013.” You try to avoid mentioning the spreadsheet is complete with pictures. However, open bars increase the likelihood of a professional “one-night-stand”. Nothing is worse than shooting an e-mail with your resume to the Associate you met at the networking open bar the night before, who was enamored with your credentials after a few glasses of Malbec, and never getting a response back (“your resume was pretty when I was drunk…” “I’m sorry…but I have a Project Assistant already…we can still be friends though…” or the WORST “Let me know if you want to meet for coffee for an informational interview” I just offered to wine-and-dine you with my potential employee prowess and you friend-zoned me with a coffee and informational interview…gahhh). Networking remorse can be so painful that it may in fact be grounds for starting another spreadsheet entitled “People Who I NEVER WANT TO MEET AGAIN BECAUSE THEY ARE WEENIES” (can’t imagine why people don’t want to hire me…maturity just exudes through my pores…).
Some people are inherently good at networking. My friend Carrie can walk into almost any schmooze-tastic situation and start a conversation, complete with engaging eye-contact and unpretentious questions. We went to a networking event together a few weeks ago and Carrie actually seemed to be listening to the jargon and name dropping, asking intelligent questions while I counted the number of ballet flats versus heels and contemplated what my next shoe purchase should be. As we left, she said goodbye to almost half of the room with hugs and business card exchanges. Carrie was also in a sorority where she made small talk on a daily basis in college. I, on the other hand, made it about halfway through sorority recruitment before determining that I am far too awkward to make a good first impression and charm strangers into insta-BFFs. Don’t get me wrong, I really do enjoy meeting people, but I can botch a first impression worse than most people can screw up quantum physics. My college friends have been begging me to write about the Cream Puff Incident, so perhaps this will give you a little background on my networking skills…
I actually did begin the process of sorority recruitment my first semester in college. The process entailed a week or so of small networking parties where you would rank the sorority and they would rank you and then you would be matched up for the next round, or something like that (I can’t particularly remember the logistics and I don’t care to be corrected at this point). One of the rounds resembled something like a tea/garden social, sans-garden, usually in the parlor of the sorority house. I distinctly remember this round being cocktail attire. There were tables set up and as you walked in, you were paired with a sister who then led you and another recruit to a table to chat. Usually this involved light refreshments of water/lemonade and some sort of hors d’ourves. In this particular house, they were serving small berry tarts and cream puffs. My friend Janice and I were led to a table by a lean blonde who could have been the younger sister of Marissa Miller returning from a summer gallivanting around the Hamptons. Her Lilly Pulitzer dress was perfectly pressed she somehow still had a post-beach glow in October. We sat down at a table and she placed a plate of cream puffs and tarts in front of us and offered lemonade.
The conversation tapered off to Janice and the sorority sister discussing mutual friends and the value of sisterhood or whatever, and my attention was waning. I had been talking about liberal arts majors and philanthropies for babies with cancer for almost 4 hours and this girl’s size zero frame was making me want to eat. I became a six year old whose parents had forgotten the crayons and my blood sugar was dropping. I waited until I was sure no one was paying attention to me and grabbed a cream puff off the plate. Mind you, no one is eating at this point. I bit into the pastry and the filling pretty much exploded out of the other end (sort of like that scene in Animal House where John Belushi projectile spits mashed potatoes while pretending to be a zit in front of the sorority girls. The sorority girls thought it was disgusting then-and I’m pretty sure they thought it was disgusting now). I was covered in custard. And no one was acknowledging it. The conversation continued with my custard-laden hands paralyzed in a praise-Jesus upward gesture to avoid flinging pastry cream on anyone’s cocktail dress. I was now the sugar-coated elephant in the room and I waited desperately for someone to laugh about it so we could bond over silly mistakes and I could ask for a napkin. This is when I realized the cream puffs were a test. THERE WERE NO NAPKINS. I spotted a half-used cocktail napkin across the table and I internally debated going to get it, but I would have to stand up and thus expose myself to the other half of the room who hadn’t already seen me eat like a wildebeest. I had no choice. I had to lick the custard off my hands. Out of the corner of her eye, the sorority sister watched me lap up the gooey pastry cream from my hands with a look of “Oh Sweet Baby Jesus.” There is no subtle way to do this. Janice finally noticed my plight and I could feel the conversation take awkward pauses as she lost her train of thought, trying to figure out what the hell I was doing. I finally managed to clean my hands, and for good measure, I slowly wiped them on my cocktail dress. The icing on the cake (no pun intended) was that the sorority sister was forced to shake my hand as we left. I wanted to tell her she didn’t have to, but as no one said ANYTHING about the incident, I felt it only polite to shake her hand. We must maintain our manners at all times, right?
Image from www.tasteofhome.com