Finding a Job Sucks: Are Networking Groups Useful?

I’ll tell you straight up—I don’t find networking groups or events to be that great. As an introvert, I find networking event pretty terrifying. I think I’d rather gouge my eyes out than go to a networking event.

Okay, maybe not that bad, but close enough.

People tout networking as the answer to the unemployment blues, but I really think they overestimate how effective it truly is.

I do think that expanding your network is a good idea, even if you’re not currently searching for a job. Friends and family can be a useful source of information, because they also have friends and family who can pass on job finding tips and open positions those inquiring. However, these are people you know and trust, people you have a relationship with. Not strangers.

Meeting strangers at a networking event and swapping business cards is not an effective way to advance your job search. It just doesn’t work that way. Friends help friends . Family helps family. Strangers take your business card and forget about you.

Networking as a Freelancer  (and an introvert)

To be honest, networking as a freelance graphic and web designer hasn’t been a horrible experience. I’ve actually made some useful connections with potential clients.

Women’s networking meet ups can be a good, non-intimidating place to meet other women business owners. The groups are usually small, they exchange helpful business tips, and there is some possibility for collaboration if you can click with the right people.

However, you do need to be aware that these kinds of groups are rife with MLM pushers and direct sellers. One lady was constantly trying to get me to test out her doTERRA oils and some other woman was trying to promote subscription legal services through LegalShield, both MLMs. I kind of despise MLMs, but that’s another post for another day.

I met one client at a huge networking event in my city. When I say huge, I mean it. And I wouldn’t have gone if a friend hadn’t convinced me to go and actually attedn the event with me.

This might be a useful tip for you introverts: go to a networking event with a friend so you have a sort of wingman or wingwoman to help ease the intimidation factor.

However, even scoring that one web design client, I can’t see myself going back to one of those mega networking events again. There were hundreds of people; it was extremely noisy, therefore hard to carry on actual conversations; and all of my leads, except for one, fell through. 

Networking as a Job Seeker

Hella Awkward

For me, networking as a job seeker is a whole other kettle of fish. Instead of looking for clients, I’m looking for an employer. But the employer is not there. I’m supposed to “connect” and “network” with other job seekers (with whom I am in competition) to unearth and get leads on potential positions. I’m supposed to make instant connections with these strangers and exchange business cards in the hopes we will meet again on LinkedIn or some other virtual space and they will remember me some job remotely related to my skill set and experience opens up, assuming they don’t want the job for themselves. Not awkward at all.

Support Groups in Disguise

I’ve been to a couple of job seeker groups that were more like support groups. And, honestly, given how frustrating job finding is, the biggest thing a job seeker needs is support. But you will meet people who are really down and depressed, and they can drag down your mood as well.

The first group is one that I sought out because I knew about from attending the church years ago. Two middle-aged men ran the group. They were nice enough. The first group meeting I went to included them, a middle-aged black woman, and a middle-aged Latina who apparently was getting job offers out the wazoo. One such offer was for a bilingual bus driver in Virginia. #Goals. But she felt good about it, and it was income. Sometimes that’s all that matters.

I went to one more group session and one private session with the leaders, but it’s a very small group, and I realized I would tap out of resources there pretty quickly. Basically, I got all I was going to get from this group, and I never returned.

The other job seekers group was at a church 30 minutes away. Notice the pattern here. This was a more established, more comprehensive program than the previous church program. The group was way larger with more opportunities for schmoozing, begging, and cozying up to perfect strangers who actually don’t give a shit about your situation.

The session actually began with a Bible study of sorts where the speaker prattled on and on about sin and forgiveness. Granted, this did take place in a church, but we were here to get inspired and motivated. Not preached to when we were already down and out. Sheesh!

I attended one of the networking break out sessions, and after giving my shaky elevator pitch, which I was not prepared for, the leader had the gall to try to make an example out of me on the ins and outs of a proper elevator speech. #Asshole. I never went back to that church or group.

One thing I noticed about the second group is how down and bitter the men were. They kind of reminded me of divorced men. Jaded and super crispy. Burnt. Angry that they were struggling to find meaningful work. Whereas the women I encountered seemed a lot less distressed, more hopeful, and overall, had a more positive attitude.

Deep Sigh

Needless to say, I have not had the best experiences networking as a job seeker. They say networking is the way to go, but for me it seems like a colossal waste of time. The people I meet are never people I really want to meet. Age and demographics play a really important part in how successful you can be. Bitter, middle-aged white men are not my demographic, and it’s not likely I’d get much traction from those connections.

If you’re already well-connected, you don’t need to go “networking” in the first place. You just tap into you list of connections and go from there. Too bad that’s not my situation right now. I pretty much have to rely on my résumé, interview skills, and personal appeal to get myself in the door, and it’s really hard. And it doesn’t seem to be enough.

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