Have a Sweet Job? Want to Be My Friend?

April 21, 2009

I promised myself yesterday that I wouldn’t go home after work without having thought of something to write a post about. Naturally, I thought of a couple ideas throughout the day and promptly forgot them all almost immediately. But now that I look back on what I’ve done so far this week, I think the thing I’ve noticed most is just how true the saying is, that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know (or, as Chris Matthews would argue, who you get to know.) I always knew this was true, but noticing nearly constant examples of contacts and name dropping has made me appreciate it in a way that a textbook or classroom discussion never could.
Basically, to get anything done here, you use a contact. When I need to find something out from someone, my first instinct is to look online, and then maybe call the main number of an office that might know the answer to my question. But my bosses just put in a call to *insert name here* on the staff of some representative or committee or organization. Every task has a name involved and a relationship behind it, maintained and carefully cultivated over years.
Sometimes it doesn’t seem to get the job done any better or faster – I can just as soon get a Senator’s scheduler’s e-mail by calling the main office number myself, for example. But when it comes to getting real information, like what ideas are being considered for healthcare reform and what compromises are in the works for a given bill, nothing is more important than who you know.
I really hate the whole idea of networking. If I have friends in cool jobs who may be able to help me out someday, it’s because they were my friends first, not because I’ve maintained correspondence with them in the hope that it will prove useful someday. But I know that I can avoid it all I want, but there’s no way around the fact that knowing someone is often the only way to get the job done. Whatever my aversions to it, the professional world doesn’t see it as exploitave – it’s just the way it works. And now that I think about it, when I imagine someone someday keeping my business card and sending me an occasional email, hoping to use me as a contact, I can’t imagine myself being offended. I think there would be something flattering about it, actually.
Contacts and flattery – seems to sum up success pretty nicely, doesn’t it? Not just in politics, but everywhere. Maybe someday I’ll master them both.
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