Our last brown bag session of the summer was a full two weeks ago, but some of us are still talking about it.
It was all about “networking,” a word I confess I detest. Even in high school, the idea that I could get a job over someone equally qualified by simply knowing the right people horrified me. Unlike everyone else I knew, I didn’t get my first job through someone who knew someone else. I literally flipped through the white pages and dialed local restaurants, shops and cafes until I found one that was hiring.
But since the economy has worsened, browsing companies and cold-calling, especially when you have a specific career in mind, won’t get you anywhere nowadays. Newspapers that publicly announce job openings on journalismjobs.com are so flooded with applicants that we recent grads hardly stand a chance. It seems increasingly apparent that the way to get a job isn’t just through hard work–it’s so much about being in the right place at the right time.
Since almost all of us interns are recent grads struggling to find post-internship work, we were on the edge of our seats to hear what the three reporters leading the brown bag had to say about how we could get gigs. They had us sell ourselves effectively in quick introductory speeches where they encouraged us to use enthusiasm and the word “I” often. They put us in a faux-mixer situation and had us interrupting each other to get a word in edgewise when standing in groups with a prominent person. They stressed that if we wanted something from someone, we had to ask them for it sooner rather than later–usually with some form of the words, “Do you know anyone who is looking for a reporter?”
I’m sure that works for lots of people. People in public relations or advertising, people in modeling auditions. Lobbyists. And maybe even some journalists. I know a lot of publishers or editors who might appreciate such a blunt and forward approach, who might reward an aggressive attitude.
However, I don’t naturally have a personality that hits you in the face the minute I walk in the door, nor do I really want one. I’m going to put my best foot forward and be assertive, sure, but I’m not going to stray too far from my personality. If I do, I’ll mislead a future employer.
Though all of us felt we wouldn’t follow the brown bag leaders’ advice to a tee, we learned valuable lessons on how to pitch ourselves to important people and how to make sure to ask for help rather than assume someone knows you want their help. But we also learned that one approach doesn’t work for everyone. We vowed to tailor the advice to our specific personalities and tone down the aggressive maneuvers.