The very employable W.J. Briggs, number one son of Yours Truly, lives and blogs in Brooklyn.
Looking for work is a bit daunting these days. Job websites abound, but every time you send your resume out you get a sinking, sad feeling. Your sure no one will read your beautifully worked cover letter or pay any attention to the re-edited skills portion of your CV.
Unfortunately, chances are you’re right.
The wise don’t bother with online job searching. Instead they find work by networking.
But networking has a stale, boring sound to it. Immediately you can tell the word was born in a drab office boardroom, conceived by a professional couple who enjoy long distance jogging on the weekends.
Why, I ask myself, would I want to network?
It’s the same question I ask myself in regards to parasailing. I know that the sport is bound to be a blast and I’m sure I would have a great time gliding across the waves of a quiet bay, winking at passing captains with a carefree smile, but I also know that I could never bring myself to utter the words, “How much for parasailing lessons?”
Something about the very sound of ‘parasailing,’ like ‘networking,’ revolts one’s refined senses. These words, along with ‘synergy’ and it’s brethren, hang in the air like an unfamiliar stench.
I’d loathe handing someone my business card in the name of networking. Not because I’m against advertising my talents, but because I’d have to tell my wife over dinner that I had engaged in the act of networking. Her fork would drop and my appetite would flee.
My hate for the word is likely rooted in the fact that networking is a relatively new concept. It’s not one of those solid, old, biblical words you can smell and feel. Networking doesn’t even come close to describing a shared human emotion we can all relate to. It merely refers to the act of weakly smiling, unloading a business card and mildly suggesting that you may be, perhaps, sort of, interested in a job or some type of partnership in the indeterminate future.
It’s a spineless word describing a vague communication. It’s a far cry from words like, loyalty, friendship, and fraternity which never fail to stiffen my jaw and make me look heroically out into the middle distance.
But one can’t simply criticize. Progress is spurred, in part, by helpful suggestions. I’d recommend that we nix the word networking and replace it with the Chinese word, ‘guanxi.’ Translated, the word describes a person’s connections, their moral responsibility to those connections, and how they rate in their connection’s minds. All of your human relationships, the good, the bad, and the ugly, would go under the umbrella of ‘guanxi.’ Further, it describes what you can get from those connections and what you owe might owe those connections.
The beauty of guanxi is that it’s not encouraged. There are no ‘guanxi cocktail hours’ or ‘guanxi conferences.’ It’s not something you do—it’s something you can’t escape. It’s a human predicament and it’s up to you how you pull or push your guanxi.
Guanxi is something everyone can feel in their bones because they see it every day. It happens when people buy each other coffee and when people stop talking to each other.
The distinction between networking and gaunxi doesn’t comfort the eager job seeker a great deal. But it may help the unemployed rethink how they deal with their connections, friends, and family. Instead of meekly handing out resumes they can spend time figuring out how and when to ask for a leg-up and how much it’ll cost them.