Tired and frustrated with the elusive pursuit of a UNICEF staff position, I resorted to bold measures: I wrote an email to a top senior UNICEF staff asking for advice.
This was a big deal for me. While I consider myself quite extrovert and friendly; at the workplace, I was very naive about the networking game. The thought of shmoozing people I didn't know felt wrong and I often caught myself saying that I simply couldn't play 'that game.' And that was that.
Encouraged by my newly founded 'boldness,' I sat with this senior staff member and asked him for career advice. Mr. Mentor calmly paused for a few seconds and said, "Do you know what your biggest problem is?" With my heart racing and my mind flashing different possible answers, I took a deep breath and waited for the verdict to hit me in the face. "You work too much," he said.
"You work too much... and don't network enough," Mr. Mentor explained. "You're always behind your computer and don't spend enough time attending brown bag lunches, asking questions, making yourself known," he added. "If people don't know you, they won't offer you a job," he concluded.
While part of me wanted to hide myself behind the outrage of being 'punished' for 'working too much,' I knew he was right. Since then I've bestowed the same piece of advice to numerous people looking for a job at the UN. In return, I also heard many people declare, "I'm not good at networking!"
I understand this too well, as I used to say the very same thing. But the truth is actually quite simple: you either play by the tune of the organization, or you choose to dance elsewhere.
While I hesitated at first, I learned a few things about networking (a lot through trial and error). But one thing stands out: rely on the good work you're doing when reaching out to people. I think that makes a big difference.
I've also learned that some people are 'natural' networkers. But there's a lot of them who just sell hot air. Sometimes their amazing networking skills will get them ahead in spite of lack of content of their work. But I still like to believe the truth will catch up with them. I want to believe that, sooner or later, good work wins.