Networking evils: The you’re-just-a-student brushoff

I know, Simon said I shouldn't waste more time thinking about this, but I had an interesting learning experience today. =)

A friend invited me to a free recruitment / networking breakfast session for a consulting networking group which shall not be named. I RSVP'd with enthusiasm, name, and affiliation. I promptly got the "We're looking for people who want to sign up right now" brush-off, which is another variant of the "You're just a student, so what can you do for me" brush-off that totally turned me off networking before.

I have to admit, my ego is a *little* bit pricked. <teasing grin> I could understand where they're coming from, though. I wrote them a polite note about how I understood that they need to protect their potential members from schmoozing salespeople, etc. I said that although I'm currently a graduate student at the University of Toronto, I thought I'd familiarize myself with professional organizations in Toronto because I meet a lot of people and I'd like to be able to recommend good resources to them. It would've been nice to be able to say more than the blurb on the website and to give people a good idea of the kind of people they might meet at the group's networking meetings or how the organizers run things, but oh well... I guess they don't want me to voluntarily learn how to "sell" the idea to other people just in case I run across someone who might be interested. ;) I suppose I can always point people to the website. <shrug>

This kind of rejection isn't a new thing for me, though. At business-oriented networking events, I often get the once-over and then ignored by people who are only interested in what they can get out of networking instead of what they can give. On the other hand, people who are open to me find me remarkable. I filter through *lots* of information about things I'm passionate about, such as networking, public speaking, technology. I attend all sorts of events and I write about what I've learned. My enthusiasm and joy remind people of why life is fun and exciting. I know a lot of people who've taken an interest in my success. Not only that, they're often interested in other people who've taken an interest in my success, too. =) The people who see me only as a student don't open up enough for me to show them all these other things, and the people who open up have a hard time believing that I'm a student or that I've only been in Canada for a year!

I think that a better way for this group to have handled the situation was not to assume that I'd be there to market my services inappropriately, but to probe and find out what value I think I'd bring to and get out of it. But then again, that would probably have been more time and attention than they'd think of spending on a student's request. (After all, what can a student offer a group of management consultants, anyway?)

It's a pity, because I'm interested in finding out more about the organization, what kind of people they attract, what value they provide, and what opportunities they're looking for. I'd still like to go. It's worth a try, and hey, I'm already learning a lot from this experience. I just hope that the feel of their meetings is better than my first impression of them, though.

Laurie Dillon-Schalk told me never to give up and that selling only starts when someone says, "No." If they can't see my value or at least ask constructively about it, then maybe the people they attract won't be able to see my value either, and I'd be better off spending that time blogging. But if I can show them that I'm not there for the free food or to hit people up for a job, but that I actually want to create value, then nifty. =)

So, what do you think? Should I try to talk my way into this for the practice, or look for a gentler and more generous networkers to start with? I told Ian Garmaise that I wanted to meet more Connectors. I want to focus on meeting people who live with that sense of gratitude for others who have helped them along and that desire to reach out and help others grow, because those are the people who can really nourish and inspire me. I'm going places, and I want to take a lot of other people along with me. I would love to meet people who can help show me the way.

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