To get a job in publishing (and many other industries) it’s a given that you have to be smart, motivated, knowledgeable. But there’s one other key component: you have to know the right people. The people who know of a job opening before it’s listed on a job board and will tell you about it, the people who can pass your resume on to HR, the people who are going to put in a good word for you. Your own talents can get you far, but so many people are as equally smart, motivated and knowledgeable as you are. You have to have more than that to get a job; you need the personal touch. You need the people who will vouch for you personally. And the way you go about getting those people on your side is through networking.
Networking to me seems like a sort of cat and mouse cartoon. The one where the mouse (publishing professional) knows that the cat (unemployed student/intern) wants it and is stalking it, yet every time the mouse turns around the cat isn’t paying attention to the mouse…it’s sharpening its claws, lapping milk, whatever a cartoon cat likes to do. It never gives away that it’s after the mouse…although both the cat and mouse know that’s the game plan. (Side note to all-those-important-publishing-people-reading-my-blog [yeah, right]: don’t worry about being a mouse. The mouse has power, here. After all, the cat wants it. And if you remember those childhood cartoons the cat’s the one that ends up in the mousetrap or with an anvil falling on its head in the end, anyways.)
I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at networking. I’ve mentioned before how I met with countless Hamilton alums and their contacts this past summer and over previous school breaks. They’re wonderful and helpful people. But getting to meet with them was relatively easy: send an email saying “Hi, I’m a student at Hamilton interested in publishing and I think you might be someone who could help me learn more about the industry…” And presto, I made a connection based on a common background. That leads to more meetings where our relationship is further strengthened.
This past week, I had the opportunity to attend a party thrown by FP-NC where agents and editors involved in children’s books were invited. It was a perfect opportunity for me to network. But boy did I feel like a cat after a mouse. And, since there were six of us interns (just from FP-NC alone), the mice sure were popular! And, just like the cat in the cartoon, we plotted and schemed our way into the tight circles of chatting agents and editors. A lone mouse by the bar? Circle it! A cat already chatting up a mouse? Join in…strength in numbers! Of course, those smart mice knew exactly what we were doing the whole time, as if we were chanting, “We want a job! Find us a job!” No one ever, though, acknowledges that out loud, which is why we’re at this cat-and-mouse-game stage.
And just like the mouse of cartoons, us cats weren’t smart enough to trap the mouse. They outsmarted us at every turn, because in the end, all the scheming and planning is nothing compared to finding that one person you actually relate to and making a really personal connection. And that’s what networking really is about. Is isn’t about collecting names or business cards…it’s about personal connections so when the HR director turns to an editor and is like, “I know you’ve meet with this candidate before…is she worthy of joining out company?” your contact will be able to reply, “absolutely, because I know she’s done xyz already and will be a great addition to our team.” And then you, lucky cat, become the all powerful mouse…just watch out for those cats sneaking up behind you!