If you’ve read blog posts or articles that give networking advice, you’ve probably run into the saying, “fake it until you make it”, right? But what if “faking it” doesn’t come naturally to you? What if you can’t bring yourself to “fake it”, because it just doesn’t feel right?
I’m here to tell you that I understand. That’s exactly how I felt at my first networking event last week. I’m also pleased to tell you that it was not an epic fail, and I still managed to get something out of it: practice.
Let me begin by introducing myself. My name is Rachel, and I am a marketing and communications student. I am also known for being brutally honest. I don’t know how to lie or sugar coat things on the spot. Naturally, I’m not that great at talking about how I rock at communications.
At this point you might be wondering why I took communications in the first place. All I know is that I like to write and I’m good at it. Presented with a keyboard and a blank screen, I enjoy finding the right words to get my point across. That feeling of satisfaction when you’ve articulated all your thoughts and research into one polished document is beautiful. On the other hand, I tend to fumble on my words in a live setting. It’s a double-edged sword.
The thing is, I’m actually quite outgoing and confident in my daily life. I attend many events and concerts, have a large group of friends, and thoroughly enjoy meeting new people. It’s just that the people I currently feel comfortable around are not “professionals” – or at least they’re not acting like professionals at the time. A woman at this particular networking event asked me if I was an introvert – I guess because she hadn’t seen me at the last event. My friends would all laugh at this comment. (“If only she knew,” they’d say.) I wish I could transfer my normal confidence (almost over-confidence) to my new professional self. If only it were that easy.
My theory is this: It’s hard for me to be confident about something that I’m just starting to learn. I need to know as much as possible about a subject before I am 100% confident that I know it. While this quality of mine has helped me in the past – not being afraid to ask questions when unsure about something – it’s not a trait that employers are impressed by. When you act unsure at a networking event, you come off as unqualified.
I know that I would be a great employee in a beginner communications role. I’m just waiting for that magic moment when I stop thinking and acting like a student and start thinking and acting like a professional. My business card says I’m a “professional communicator”, but I’m not yet convinced.
Will I ever be convinced? Growing up is hard. When I told two women at the networking event that I was having these thoughts, they both chuckled and advised me to hold on to my youth for as long as I could. They, too, did not want to grow up. While this moment was comforting, it only confused me more. Is everybody faking it? (No wonder I identify so much with Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in The Rye.)
A telling scene from the networking event sums up my current dilemma. As someone who works at a liquor store and has taken courses on the subject, I thought I would break the ice by ordering a nice bottle of wine (bottles of wine happened to be half-off that night, which was a bonus). I started talking with two men from a local marketing agency and things were going well. Another classmate of mine was also part of the discussion. At one point – and I’m not sure how it happened –the conversation got away from me. My classmate even topped off the two men’s wine glasses with the wine that I had bought, almost forgetting to save me some. I could have shrugged it off and continued making a case for myself, but I felt defeated. I left the conversation.
Now, I’m not mad at my classmate. She exudes confidence and probably doesn’t even know she did it. But I wish I were more like her. I wish I had topped off their glasses. I bought the wine and I wish I had owned that moment. I mean, I’m taking marketing. I need to learn how to market myself.
I joined IABC to brush up on my business communications skills, and that’s what I plan to do. The only way to get better is to keep practicing, and the only way to practice networking is to put myself out there and network. So even though I feel uncomfortable, I have to keep “faking it”. If what they say is true, I can look forward to “making it”, right? In any way, I didn’t completely fail. I ended up “faking it” to a few people – at least to the best of my ability. I’m just waiting for that moment when I don’t even think about faking it – or making it – anymore.
Rachel Andrushuk (@r_andrushuk) is current student at U of W PACE’s Public Relations, Marketing and Strategic Communications program, with an peculiar interest in liqueur.