You already know how important a superior network is to your career and your life. You’re looking for mentors and supporters who can help boost your career prospects. But there’s always a little bit of uncertainty and anxiety in approaching the people you want in your network, isn’t there?
Nurturing new relationships for business is not easy for most people. Can you make a good first impression? Can you be flexible at a first-time meeting, and cover whatever contingencies might come up? Are you a shameless self-promoter or brown-noser? Do you know how to be yourself? If you’re on an airplane after having found a killer deal on tickets with JustFly, are you going to use the time on the plane wisely?
Are you a people pleaser, always trying to learn what the other person likes and expects and then playing to those expectations no matter what? Is this a good networking strategy?
In a survey of 500 professionals from a wide field of business, 66% reported using this kind of people-pleaser approach, often called catering. But these same 66% said that their catering plans did not work out as well as they expected. And they were wondering if they shouldn’t place more emphasis on being themselves, being authentic to make a better first impression.
Field studies show that entrepreneurs who make pitches based on a catering approach actually harm their potential investors first impressions. These same studies found that entrepreneurs who tried to be themselves when pitching an idea to investors were more successful, and, even more important, felt more comfortable and confident in their presentations.
Studies involving role play showed that those who portrayed the interviewing boss felt more impressed with players who had been instructed to just be themselves, rather than those who were instructed to play up the catering strategy during their interview.
This role playing study also discovered that the catering players felt less successful and confident during their interview.
It may seem counter-intuitive to reject the catering approach when trying to make the best possible first impression, but research shows that without long-term in-depth study it is nearly impossible to really impress another person by trying to give them what they want — because you really don’t know what it is they really want. It is analogous to gift-giving; so often we strive to please others by giving them an item we think will be pleasing to them, only to find out immediately or later on that our idea of a good present was not at all what they wanted. Hence the rise of gift cards in traditional gift-giving situations.
People-pleasers are handicapped by the fact that there is no crystal ball that can help them to predict just exactly what another person wants or needs. Yet the people pleaser, or catering person, persists in trying to find the right approach, the right way to please someone they are anxious to impress. Because this so often fails, or even backfires, the caterer soon becomes very anxious and even depressed when trying to build up his or her network or at a job interview. Catering always contains an element of falseness and/or deceitfulness. By not being themselves, caterers set themselves up to be misunderstood and disliked during first contact.
The conclusion is inescapable: Feeling comfortable by being yourself during an interview comes across in a positive light more often than trying to cater to the interviewers wants.