Have you been to a networking event before? Please take a second to think about this before we move on. Can you visualize it? For those of you who can’t, I have just a few questions: Are you between the ages of 0 and 115? Have you at least heard about/seen on TV/read about, any sort of networking event? Do you remember how it was portrayed?
Let me try to paint you a picture. In my 26 or so years of life, I have been to my fair share of networking events. From what I can piece together of my experiences there, each consisted of three general things. First, there was always alcohol. Lots and lots of alcohol. Next, everyone was dressed in some kind of uniform (ladies with nice tops and skirts, men in suits.) Finally there was a lot of smiling and hand-shaking and talking (a LOT of talking.)
Now I present to you tailgating. Same questions apply (only switch the words “tailgating” with “networking”) Aren’t they basically the same thing? There’s alcohol (lots and lots of it), everyone is dressed in a uniform and there is a lot of smiling and hand-shaking and talking.
So what exactly does this connection signify? That, at a time when the national unemployment rate is 9.0% and when 14% of recent college grades are either unemployed or employed only part time, that it’s a real shame that tailgating remains a widely unused opportunity to make connections.
What makes it so viable? That sports fans in general are the embodiment of hope and second chances. They legitimately believe, at any given point before the game is played, that their team has an opportunity to win against whomever their opponent happens to be. Furthermore, most hardcore tailgaters will arrive at the parking lot somewhere between 4 or 5 hours before the game. Much of the initial talk will likely center specifically around the team. Chances are, however, that eventually you’ll exhaust all possible team-related topics. The period that follows then, is key for job or business seekers and is ripe with networking opportunities. Having already established a solid common ground (love for the team), branching out into your career (or career goals) can be both seamless and lucrative if done right.
Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer co-authored an article published in the New York Times on September 3, 2011 referencing the Gallup-Healthways well-being index, which has been polling 1000 adults every day since January 2008. Based on these index results, Amabile and Kramer noted that more American’s now feel worse about both their jobs as well as their work environment than ever before. Specifically, the index stated that people of all ages, across all income levels, are unhappy with their supervisors, apathetic about their organization and detached from what they do. Amabile and Kramer’s article also referenced a study done in 2010 by James K. Harter which found that lower job satisfaction often foreshadowed poor bottom-line performance.
Why is this data important? Because while tailgate networking does not guarantee you a good job that you’ll love, it can help provide one of the fundamental principles of developing happy employees: Providing a positive and friendly work environment. After all, what is a better place to work than with people who like the same things you do, who can talk about the same things you do, and who can hang out at the same places you do. See, people are far happier when they share common interests. Tailgating together simply happens to be a particularly effective way of flushing these interests out, in a way that is far more sincere than any traditional networking event. Remember then, that the next time people question why you’re tailgating, remind them that you’re not just going for the food, and the beer, and your friends, you’re going to try to better your future.
Harrison Goo is a contributor to CBS Local and the founder of the blog Sportsgooru.com. To contact him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org follow him on twitter at @sportsgooru.