I hate networking emails. I despise everything about them. I hate getting them, and I hate sending them. I know that for some people there’s value in reaching out to people in your field, establishing connections and nurturing relationships. To me, they usually just read as really candy-coated attempts at saying “Hey, I kind of need a job, whatchu got?” especially if it’s to someone you’ve never met before. Blech. I’d rather get a beer.
I have had a few former colleagues and friends who have been kind enough to hook me up with people they know that have jobs I admire, and I’m always grateful for the kind gesture. But the actual correspondence with these people always gives me the heebie-jeebies. It’s no fault of the person on the other end; I just have this weird guilt thing about networking. I’m told “it’s just a part of the working world.” I guess.
A few months ago, my girlfriend, her friend and I were sharing a drink when I expressed my interest in finding a better job. My girlfriend’s buddy told me about her cousin, a guy who works for a comedy website that I love, and who, coincidentally, used to work for my current employer. And the name (which I’m changing for this story) sounded familiar: Rob A.
Rob A? Rob A. Where had I heard that name before?
She offered to introduce us via email; I immediately declined. “I could never,” I explained. “I don’t want to come off as desperate.”
“You wouldn’t!” she replied. “He’s super nice and I’m sure he’d love to talk shop with you.” I told her I’d think about it.
After a few weeks of being pestered by my girlfriend for passing up a good opportunity, I pulled the trigger and told the friend I’d really appreciate the connection. She emailed both me and her cousin by way of introduction, and I responded with a short (and, I thought, charming) note about how I really dug the site he works for, and if he had any advice for navigating the place he left, that’d be great too, since that’s where I was working now.
A few days went by with no response, and I figured he was either too busy or not interested enough to respond. Then he did respond, and I realized I would never send another networking email again for the rest of my life.
The letter started off pleasant enough, but about half-way through I noticed something was awry. The tone was off; it was succinct and pleasant, but almost unnervingly so. Then came the grand finale:
“Best, Rob. P.S. Good thing I never saw that blog you wrote in which you called me a vagina and a girl crying on her period. Boy would that have been awkward.”
It all came back to me in a sickening flash.
Rob, while working for my current employer, had written an article 18 months prior in which he expressed his relief that a popular television show was coming to an end, and he hoped that the constant fan chatter surrounding the show would also cease. I flexed my weak Internet Snark muscle on my personal bullshit Tumblr blog and wrote a completely unnecessary, heavy-handed, profanity laced hit piece of a response to this “Rob,” who I had never met. “Who the fuck does this ‘Rob’ think he is, anyway?” I thought. I was livid, personally offended, and this was my opportunity to hit some Internet big wig right where it hurt — right on my blog with a total audience of about 12. It was less a defense of fanboys like me, and more an opportunity to be “funny” at this guy’s expense. I went back and read the post; it was awful. In addition to calling him a “vagina” and “a girl crying on her period,” I also told him to “shut his goddamn mouth,” and that he probably looks great in his “Shirley Temple dress.” You know, really funny stuff.
So there I sat, staring at his perfect email. And it was perfect; the saccharine-sweet body was the prime set-up for the gut-punching postscript. I thought about how to respond. Not only did I insult this guy for absolutely no reason, but I also forgot his name and then proceeded to try and network with him! UGH.
I went with: “Oh, THAT Rob A. Boy, I am an asshole,” and hit send.
I figured, after everything I’d said, few words were best.