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Thinking allowed

Sois belle et parle

"One beer, please"

*And some pointers on body language wouldn't go amiss, either*

The extremely warm temperature in the pub ensures people consume refreshing beverages from the moment they enter. This is not a bad thing, all things considered. Networking is a tense affair. Even with your inhibitions slightly lowered by liquid courage, it is still highly uncomfortable at times. There's the waiting for the handshake. You plaster on that industry-smile and try to look as natural as possible in a situation that is about as unnatural as anyone could imagine. There's the handshake itself. As you proffer your hand, you try to exude just the right amount of self-confidence and sincerity. My judging-glands are usually working overtime at this point. (Before you start making disapproving noises: it is not a voluntary decision, it's built-in.) I judge you upon whether or not you look me in the eye or if you're already looking over at the next person in the hand-shaking-queue. I judge you on the dreaded humidity of your hands. I judge you on firmness of grip. Too strong and I think you're overcompensating for something, too soft and I assume you are one of those people who talks to their cats and thinks they understand what you're saying. All in all, it takes me less than a minute to decide whether I like you or not, but don't worry, it takes me less than a second to forget your name. Not my fault; I was too busy working on eye-contact and grip-strength to concentrate on what people consider the vital part of an introduction. I have perfected the "What was your name again?" (…) "No, no, your last name" routine, although I'm not deluded enough to think that anyone is fooled by it.

But I digress.

Networking is a strange thing. Roughly put, it seems to be something you when you have a job, and use in case you ever don't. So while I am shaking hands and try to look as fresh as I possible can after 8 hours of work, I wonder if I will ever see these people again. Correct me if I'm wrong, but to me this whole business revolves around the main question: Will knowing you prove useful at some point? And, while we're at it, how useful are we talking here? There is networking for people that you may need to contact in the future for professional purposes. Situation: need help. "Hi, remember that time that we met at the bar? (…) Yes, yes exactly. (…) No, I'm sure it understands, animals are smarter than everyone gives them credit for. Anyway, I need xyz and I was wondering if you a) can help me with that, b) know someone who can help me with that."

Then there is networking your way out of a less than ideal situation. Situation: un(der)employed with the hope that somewhere in your heap of contacts lies a hint, the tiniest of clues, on how to get yourself out of that situation. Take unemployment. Much like during a night out, you set out with high standards. Try to go for that dream job. Get yourself out of bed and slightly hysterically yell to the mirror that "it takes only one to say yes!". But as the duration of unemployment increases, along with the consumption of sugary treats you eat between sending resumes, you start to consider settling for a position where you would be underemployed. Not necessarily would-you-like-fries-with-that underemployed, but underemployed nonetheless. I suppose a nice way of putting this would be "awaiting that position where you can live up to your full potential." Then, during one hard-earned day off, you may find yourself rearranging the business cards in your rolodex. Not that one would ever do such a thing on a day off but let's assume for argument's sake that they would. You find a long-forgotten card that seems to emit a promising glow. As the "give me a call" of the Person Who Gave You This Card echoes in your head, you realise that this is what all those sweaty hands and overpriced beers have led to: the moment where you throw out your net. But here's the rub: how do you call this person after weeks or (horror) months? How do you find a diplomatic way to communicate the following: "I know you don't owe me anything, and you may not even remember who I am, but I met you one time and I was just wondering if you could help me get back in the game? Also, how's your cat?"

The good news is that I still have time to find an answer to these questions, as I continue to weave my way through my budding work experience. In the meantime: there is nothing wrong with having a drink with colleagues. Hardcore networking will come. Mañana. 

Note to the reader who has bravely stuck with me: While I was writing this a mail popped up in my inbox titled "Training course networking skills". Time to order those business cards.

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