Networking: Do it even if you hate it

I met a not-friend at a restaurant. I was networking, because this is what you must do to further your career. Even if you hate it, you have to do it.

We discussed segmented marketing. For example, we talked about which bands get downloaded most, then we moved to which bands we each like.

If I were looking for a friend, I would have gone into topics that may be controversial but can weed out inappropriate people: politics, money, sex. These are make-or-break topics. But I couldn’t afford a "break" on this occasion, because this person was one of my best connections in the advertising world.

Early in my career, my boss was having trouble because someone who reported to her hit on her and was upset that she said no. The story got out, and soon the whole office knew about it.

One evening she asked me, "What do people think of what's happened with ____?" At the time, I was flattered that I was the one she pulled aside. Now I realize that I have to be extra careful to edit myself as I go. Complete honesty is not completely good: it alienates people.

The not-friend I went to dinner with asked me if I liked her yellow scarf. I thought it was gross, but I was afraid to tell her the truth.

Maybe if I told her the scarf was awful, we would have immediately become good friends, and she would always love me for my honesty. But maybe not. It was the “maybe-not” part that kept me from telling her the truth– because I would rather have a good network than a good friend. (I don't need a Rolodex full of friends; I do need a Rolodex full of contacts.)

Still, I wanted to tell my not-friend that I hated her scarf. I want to show people who I really am. I want to see if they would still like me. I want to distribute surveys (to be put on file later in my Rolodex) that ask people if they enjoyed my honesty, and if they would be willing to do favors for me now that they know the real me.

Instead, I ordered a Cosmopolitan because she ordered one– even though I don't drink. And I told her little things about me that she didn't already know, so she felt like she was getting to know me.

I did not tell her that I find networking so exhausting that my Rolodex is actually shrinking from atrophy. I decided that maybe a good step would be to buy her a new scarf– a way to express my true feelings in a positive way.

When we parted, I pretended to take the train home. Instead of going straight home, I bought a milkshake at a diner and sat in a booth to decompress. The most tiring part of networking is having to be clever and interested for so long. And the cruel truth of the work world is that people who love to network don't need to do it.

People like me (who hate networking) need to be diligent. I tell myself I have to endure one of these nights each month. I remind myself that I might meet the perfect person to help me later, that networking is like money in the bank.

So even if someone has terrible taste in music and scarves, I work hard when I'm with her, because you never know when networking will pay off, and I really believe that it always does, even after all my complaining.
Penelope Trunk has worked for many businesses and even started a few, and now she's too busy to write her column. This good advice is reprinted from an earlier edition of the Hook.