A very dear and hard-working friend of mine has made a name for herself amongst political circles. The “unfucker” they call her: if a situation or event seems fucked up, they request her services to help unfuck it. After much volunteering along the campaign trail, she has proved herself an indispensable component in the great political machine and has subsequently found herself gainfully employed.
After floundering for some time now with my career trajectory, I have decided to take an entirely new tack with my jobseeking – unashamed, aggressive networking. Rather than standing in line like a loser, meekly submitting application after pointless application, I’ve decided to simply ask people to give me a job and brow-beat them into agreement (check out my entrepreneurial spirit David Cameron! Big Society, eat your heart out!). And it is in this vein that my friend has decided to take me under her wing.
So there we are. It’s Monday night at Ministry of Sound, a fundraiser for Oona King, Baroness of Bow and it’s pissing down with rain. As I awkwardly sashay up to the cordoned-off entrance, my best “power” smile planted across my face, I am greeted by a kindly bouncer with an umbrella who chivalrously escorts me to the club door – a far cry from the stoic condescension of bouncers from my youthful clubbing days.
My debut into UK political society and I know nothing about the event – what we’re raising funds for, I’m too embarrassed to ask. As I stand at the back of the auditorium, watching guests push their starters about their plates, I note the presence of several Westminster big-wigs including Ed Miliband, Ken Livingstone and Harriet Harman. Yowser… I suddenly feel more like one of those screaming fans behind the barricades at a Harry Potter premier than a ruthlessly vivacious political job whore.
A few subsidised drinks downed and I am into the fray. My friend introduces me to a number of colleagues who kindly offer their contact details. I’m feeling good. And then, at the first test of my intelligent small talk capabilities, I melt into the floor. A tall, dark and extremely wealthy man shakes my hand and asks me what sort of work I’m looking to get into. Realising I haven’t yet developed my spin, I decide to distract him with much nervous head wobbling, hair flicking, over-gesticulation and self-deprecating, evasive eye contact. Sensing I’m getting very sweaty, I want to run away.
After disengaging from the a slow and painful death of my fledgling networking life, my friend tells me that the tall, dark and very wealthy man is definitely someone to know. Too bad he thinks I’m a tool.
But then Providence intercepts and he crosses my path once more, offering me another opportunity to sell myself. I fail. And then a third opportunity presents itself. And I fail again. Frustrated, my friend resigns herself to the fact she will be writing him an email on my behalf.
Waiting at the bar, I stare gormlessly into space only to realise he is once again in my frame of vision. Perfect. Not only have I failed at each turn to adequately wow him, I now look like someone has just scooped out my brain and left me standing vacantly on the dance floor. He asks me about my daughter, then my marriage. Oh dear. Not my preferred tract at all. I don’t want him to think I’m human; I want him to think I’m a dynamic working machine! We are interrupted by someone else who shamelessly wants his patronage. I scuttle away.
He finds me once more. “When are you leaving?” He asks.
Somewhat confused, I reply: “I’ll probably stay and hang out with my friend for another drink or two.”
“I will too then. Can I get you a drink?”
The rusty cogs in my brain begin to slowly turn. Am I being hit on?
Stay on task, girl.
“I was going to leave but then I wanted to come back and see you. Is that wrong?”
“Um…. Er…. I guess not.”
I have morphed into a 15-year-old girl at the school bus stop.
“I think you’re really amazing. Can I see you again?”
This is a fucking disaster.
Logic and opportunism finally filter in.
“… in a professional capacity. Do you have a human rights wing at your organisation I can work in?”
As I sat on the night bus home, I reflected on this somewhat uncomfortable introduction. Not my finest hour, to be sure. There was no aggressive brow-beating, no shameless asking for a job. Just me, behaving like a silly wet kipper. Perhaps a shift in how one conceptualises these relationships is in order. For instance, by removing the whole concept of “networking” and thinking about it terms of simply meeting people then some of the mystique is debunked. I think my first mistake was thinking I had to be something I’m not. I am not a dynamo, not yet anyway; I am self-deprecating and flouncy. That much is certain. But sometimes one has to play to their strengths. And, of course, get plenty of practice.