February 19, 2020

DERY | Please Don’t Make Me Network

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Five months after my Cornell interview and three months after committing to my Big Red acceptance, I attended a local meet-and-greet for the incoming class. Hosted at an alum’s home and intended to be a mixer between incoming freshmen, current students and alumni, it was meant to be a laid-back social. But in the immediate aftermath of the crapshoot that are college applications, such socials are anything but laid back.

Allow me to offer a snapshot of what I mean. After parking a block away from the event’s address, I walked down the street and arrived at the front door, only to run into a line of fellow Cornellians waiting to enter. As I eventually got within sight of the hosts, one of them waved me over, so I instinctively approached, made eye contact, reached out my hand and, as had been ingrained in me over the course of numerous interviews and information sessions, said “nice to meet you.” I let out an internal sigh of relief having successfully introdu — “We’ve already met,” he replied while tentatively shaking my hand, “I went to your graduation, Roei. I shouted your name from the bleachers when you were on stage.” Of course he did. As I pulled back my outstretched hand, it all came back to me: the interview at my high school for which he drove up to meet me, the fact that his daughter attended  my school, his involvement with the Cornell radio station.

But it all came a moment too late. I had been graciously invited to someone’s home,  summoned by the host and casually skipped the line — and this was all I had to show for it. I vaguely recall responding with, “Of course, of course, thank you so much, thank you,” but it didn’t  matter. My head held low, I wrote my name on a sticker, slapped it on my chest and proceeded into the kitchen. All I remember from the rest of the evening was hogging the veggies-and-ranch, meeting some frat brother who never reached out to the email I gave him and genuinely asking another alumni if he knew Ezra: ingredients for a typical meet-and-greet in the life of Roei Dery.

So, after I arrived on campus, I was anything but excited to learn of the career and project team fairs that flooded my inbox. Networking events are the extrovert’s hunting grounds, and for the rest of us, it’s an imitation game, a glorified smile-and-wave. Whereas my Hotelie friend attends career fairs and  meet-and-greet dinners on a regular basis, to me and many of my comrades in physics, they seem like a foreign, daunting reality.

When I went to freshman career fairs in the fall, I looked on as hundreds of business casual students waltzed between booths, freely shook hands with every recruiter and dived head-first into small-talk. I became exhausted just observing the interactions, and thought back to all the awkward silences I authored in the midst of college interviews. The speeches and talking points I industriously prepared in the comfy retreat of my room are unrecognizable from my mumblings in real time, and pale in comparison to the cadence of any improvising extrovert. I would exit each interview leaving behind a forgettable first impression, torturing myself with every awkward moment I replied to “Good luck” with “You too!” in conversation with an alumni or representative.

But in a world where career fairs and interviews are the sole ticket into a competitive workforce, my complaints do little good. However, neither do career fairs that cast introverts to the side. Some of the smartest and most capable people I have met here would not want anything to do with a business-casual career social, and yet such events are still forced down our throats on a regular basis.

To refocus students on becoming interested in the actual content of a career-oriented opportunity as opposed to just wanting a job, we need only look to workshops and sessions held by recruiters to present the specifics involved. Indeed, club tryouts, project team information sessions and even Cornell Days are all examples of realistic representations of certain opportunities for their respective applicants. But nonetheless, we continue to see career fairs, mixers and interviews as prerequisites. Instead of separating those genuinely interested in content from those who pursue the optics, our current recruitment system weeds out the introverts and gives socialites a leg up on contacts before any matter of substance is discussed.

But I saw a glimmer of hope while interviewing with an alumni for another school. This time, when he asked me to describe myself, I unapologetically told him I prefer inside jokes with a close-knit group to shaking hands with strangers, that it sometimes takes me weeks to develop my comfort zone and open up, a side of me that he won’t be able to see over the next 15 minutes. And though I fully braced myself for the confused look I had grown accustomed to over the course of my college interviews, he smiled instead. He appreciated the self-awareness, and I appreciated his understanding even more. That’s what “networking” should be. Enough of telling introverts to “fake it till’ we make it”: for us to emerge from the shadows, we need to hold our judgements and reconsider our current system.

Roei Dery is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. The Dery Bar runs every other Thursday this semester.