Networking has its place, but don't ignore its problems

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I get it, I’ve been there. I’ve chatted to people and thought at the back of my mind – “this could really boost my CV”; I’ve added my entire secondary school year on LinkedIn; I’ve dutifully penned dates for networking events into my calendar, for reasons besides the availability of free food.

I do absolutely see the draw of networking, and have seen first-hand its benefits – on a week-long trip to Japan, I met an Oxford student who was totally unsure as to what he’d do after uni. By the end of the week, he’d secured a job interview with some connections he’d met there. These glamorous and awe-inspiring cases lead us to believe that networking is not just a necessary evil, but the path to truly unrivalled progress and success.

But at the end of the day, there’s something about the intensive culture of networking at Cambridge that really doesn’t sit well with me. Recently, we hear a lot about the negative consequences of the marketisation of services such as university education – I would argue that, far beyond that, we are beginning to marketise even human interaction.

I’m sure that I’m not just speaking for myself when I say that I have, in the past, met people and seen only the world of job opportunities they could open up for me. It’s totally rational to do this – we’re living in a time where the job market is fiercely competitive, and the values of the neoliberal capitalist society we live in teach us to get ahead at all costs. However, isn’t it frightening that we’re at a point where it is not just vacancies, or degrees, or programmes that we see as opportunities, but go so far as to see the people we meet in this light?

This is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Like many things in contemporary society, I think that while the culture of networking is toxic, the solution isn’t as simple as opting out of it. Neoliberal capitalism pushes the agenda of getting ahead for the reason that in such a cut-throat economy and society, those who don’t get ahead end up falling behind. A good portion of us at Cambridge attend or have attended events not just for the glossy stash or complementary wine and pizza, but because of a fear that by missing these events, we are not developing the crucial networks that will make us employable after graduation.

I have, however, decided to avoid networking for networking’s sake as much as I can. It has been liberating. I now attend events because I find them interesting for themselves and do not feel the same pressure to memorise the names of panel speakers so that I can note them down for future reference. In fact, I’d say I’m happier overall. Perhaps I am just being naïve, but I’m glad that I took a breather and let go of my careerist instincts – life is very long. There is plenty of time to find the positions I need.

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