Career Tips

Are You Robbing Others of Time & Opportunity

I’ve met many a thief in my life.  Most were clueless of their criminal ways.  They floated through life robbing others of time and opportunity.  It’s not that they intended to be thieves.  Far from it.  They were so wrapped up in themselves, they simply didn’t have the awareness of what they were taking from themselves and others.  The thief didn’t overpower his victim with a gun, knife or blunt object.  It was his mouth.  Plain and simple, he overwhelmed others with his inability to keep conversations brief and on topic.  He monopolized any and all conversation with details upon details of his unfortunate circumstances or vast efforts to find a job.

Harry is a good example of the unknowing thief.  He’s a lovable guy who has found himself in the uncomfortable position of looking for a job after years of solid employment.  Harry knows networking with others is the best way to find opportunities.  Harry isn’t comfortable with networking though.  It scares him to death and his pride is already suffering as a result of losing his job.  He sets all that aside and forces himself to get out there when he’d rather be under a rock.  Harry definitely deserves a pat on the back for that.  Many would have gladly remained hidden, all the while hoping something amazing would drop in their lap.

Where Harry comes up short is in his willingness to take any show of interest or kindness by others as a green light to unload ‘the story of Harry’ from start to finish.  It’s an easy thing to do.  When you are nervous and find a safe person to interact with so you don’t have to feel alone or awkward at a networking event, it is hard to let go of that person.  You see their smile and their nods of agreement and fail to notice the frequent watch checks, glances around the room and polite attempts to close the conversation and move on.  It’s important to keep in mind in networking situations people are interested in making valuable connections with as many people as possible.  Getting stuck with one person for 10 minutes, let alone an hour, can be devastating and dramatically reduce the number of leads a person walks away with.   Depriving people of the chance to mingle and meet others is robbing them of opportunity.  That is hardly the best way to make a good impression.  If a person can’t wait to get away from you, you can bet they will try to avoid you in the future.  In the world of networking, that’s a total bomb.   Add to the mix for every person whose time Harry is monopolizing he is also robbing himself of the chance to meet and connect with others.

So, how can you avoid being a thief?

  • First of all, be aware of how much talking you are doing and how much of a person’s time you are occupying.   If you find yourself monopolizing the conversation, start asking questions and shift the direction of the conversation.  Pick questions where the answers will interest you so you are more inclined to listen.  It’s easy to tell when people are just asking questions for the sake of talking and not paying attention to the answers.  People like to talk about themselves and they like to know they are being heard.  Everyone needs a chance to be the focus for networking relationships to work.
  • Remember the goal of leaving people wanting more.  If you tell them everything in one meeting, there is no reason to connect with you again.  The most important things to exchange are how to get in touch with one another and what types of information/situations are beneficial to hear about.
  • Leave any and every ‘woe is me’ story at home.  People need to be able to figure out what they can do for you and you need to figure out what you can do for them.  Sharing frustrations or unfortunate experiences accomplishes none of that.  It just weighs conversations down and leaves people fantasizing about a stiff drink.
  • If you are hanging on one person because you don’t know anyone else or are afraid to approach others, go work the corners of the room.  That’s where all of the other scared people are hanging out wishing someone would strike up a conversation with them.  You can cover a lot of ground and build up confidence doing your best to introduce yourself to corner dwellers at an event.  Just be prepared to find a way to move on from the conversations.  They are likely thieves as well.  Once someone is paying attention to them, they may find it hard to give them up too.  Introduce them to the person you met prior to them and move on to the next corner.


Lisa joined the Michigan State University Alumni Association as Director of Alumni Career & Business Services on May 1, 2012. Her primary focus is to develop effective networking and resource channels for experienced alumni interested in professional development and job search strategy assistance. Additionally, Lisa works directly with corporate, education, foundation and government partners seeking to attract qualified talent, retain and develop good employees, and establish collaborative relationships in line with their established goals and objectives.


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