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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