With my job hunt progressing along at the pace of a live dinosaur hunt, I regularly receive advice from people from whom I'd rather receive money. Occasionally some helpful advice comes around, usually suggesting that I seek assistance from other people in my job search. While this advice may be useful, it's certainly not groundbreaking guidance. From an early age we're taught that it's not what you know, but who you know, that will dictate success. Unless you're Ken Jennings, in which case it really is what you know.
I didn't realize the full scope of this philosophy until adolescence, at which point it manifested for my friends and I in the form of part time jobs. As each teen in turn reached his sixteenth birthday, conferences were held to determine which prospective occupation would most benefit the rest of us. By the end of the year, the manner in which we took our dates around town enjoying complimentary movies and arcade games before an elegant evening at Burger King, shaking hands all the while was reminiscent of those mob movies in which everyone knows and kills each other.
Though we liked to pretend as much, the wisdom of this arrangement was not exclusive to my clique. (Wisdom, in fact, was never something attributed to my clique). But that doesn't mean that we didn't benefit from the ubiquitous nature of the understanding. Classmates and party acquaintances were always willing to pass a favor on to a fringe friend realizing all the while that the gratuity would likely be returned. While walking around the mall one lazy afternoon, a friend and I were given some complimentary cookies by the cute girl that sat between us in biology class. A week later, my friend and his pastry princess went out on the first date of what would be a year-long relationship. I got a free cookie out of the deal; one with M & Ms, at that.
But as part-time jobs became less prevalent in college, so too did the possibility of receiving freebies from friends. Internships rarely provided the authority for a hook-up, and an on-campus job in the admissions office offered all of the enticing spoils that you could expect to find in an admissions office. Of all the typical college jobs only bartending bucked the trend of uselessness, and did so monumentally. If my peers were downtrodden over the loss of connections at their local Wendy's and bowling alley, they certainly didn't show it while barreling into the bar. Unless that was why they were barreling into the bar.
I nabbed a job bartending shortly before my senior year, and though it was greeted with feverish applause from friends, such enthusiasm wasn't shared by everyone. My folks were worried about a position at which I'd be working late and around alcohol, my driver's license was worried about a position in which I'd be working late and around alcohol and my friends were worried that they wouldn't be able to stay late enough around the alcohol. As I settled into the job, I quickly discovered that I had little leverage when friends came in search of grog gratis. With free drinks already part of the bartender's repertoire, I could only cower and acquiesce as friends lobbied for liquor. Problems consistently arose after those typical Wednesday nights when there would be $3 in the register, ten of my friends in the bar and $75 in tips in the jar. On those evenings the red flag would soar, nice and high.
Parents hated the system. "Abuse of your positions," was how they described my interactions until I graduated from college, at which point the practice earned the title of "'networking' and was encouraged. The distinction between the two is slight but obvious to the informed: getting "'hooked up' required that you stay on good terms with someone so as to take advantage of their position, whereas "'networking' just requires that you stay on good terms with someone so as to take advantage of their position.
And so networking has become my charge. I've spent the past few months in a giddy frenzy, watching friends secure jobs that leave me frothing at the mouth (where else?) in anticipation of abuse. Investment banks, law offices and consulting firms; I don't even know what the positions entail, just that I have a buddy on the inside. Naturally, I plan to reciprocate whenever possible, though my background leaves few viable options:
Friend: I can get you into a great mutual fund.
Me: Great! And I can write you a column!
Friend: . . .
Me: . . . or clean out your garage.
Hopefully that'll be enough to earn the favor of my far-more accomplished friends. I'm not looking for much from my networking at this point. Just a job. Or perhaps an apartment. Maybe some cheap health insurance? Hell, let's be honest here.
I'd still settle for some fries.