There is an important distinction between networking and schmoozing. The former is a process of making yourself available for opportunities through connections to people. The latter is attempting to meet people for the specific purpose of using them. This has been important for me to understand, in order to be comfortable with networking. I’m exceedingly social, but I’m touchy about being seen as a shallow opportunist when I meet someone. Networking sounds great, schmoozing sounds like something that makes people hate yuppies.
The courtship analogies come naturally. A casual poll of my friends comes to the following (non-unanimous) conclusion: if you wouldn’t be happy to have someone as a friend, it seems odd to hit on ’em… not necessarily wrong, just a little shallow and opportunistic. Now, some bars are totally the place for this, and “meat market” is not a universally repellent concept. It’s been a selling point for place to be known as a meat market.
Now, if I took my girlfriend to a bar (as a place for social networking) and I didn’t know it was a meat market, then it would be annoying. Ahhhh, but here’s the rub: The occasion of meeting people is rife with short and long-term possibilities. A little bit of “meat marketing” in a club or bar injects some thrill into the scene. For me, a good bar (or networking event) has a delicate balance between people tempering long-term bonds, and people who see a straightforward goal being met in the near future. [Ahem] If a bar seems like a speed dating event, or if a networking event is all about schmoozing, then I just wish I’d been warned. It wouldn’t exactly be surprising, though.
This is why I was wary of social events associated with the MBA program. I’ll get into details in other posts, but I have great first impressions. It seems to be common knowledge that MBA students should meet each other and make connections. With the general acknowledgment that MBA networking is a good idea, for pragmatic reasons, it should be more about fun than trading business cards.