Almost two years out of college, the term “networking” still haunts me. I was networking when I met my stalker.
I had just graduated from college and just had to do anything remotely close to my dream job. With dreams of being a big-shot writer for television, I landed a temporary low-wage, low totem pole position as an “audience page” on a daytime show. I was paid 10 dollars an hour to hassle audience members. The job would only last me three months and I was determined to use networking to help make the next move in my career.
To make connections, I played kiss-ass to almost anyone. I was desperate.
Charles* worked on another production on the same floor. Like with anyone else I came across, we made small talk. After asking where I graduated from and what I wanted to do, he asked for my contact information. Silly me for assuming someone at work, asking me about work, would want my info to give me work.
Five minutes after giving Charles my contact information, I received a text. The fastest anyone has ever used my information for networking purposes.
“Hey. It’s Charles. We can now talk to each other at work.”
Uh-oh. This was not good, but I thought maybe I could keep in touch, laugh about it with my co-workers and still have some hope of getting a job. I was networking! Isn’t networking all about talking to people you would never talk to in real life for the benefit of your career?
Through the course of the TV season, I’d receive more texts asking me how my day was, alongside some genuine bragging about his position in “show business.” Anyone who uses the term “show business” is on another delusional planet -- I know this now and I knew that then.
Texts aside, Charles would walk around with a clipboard checking out the premises of our program, aimlessly, while everyone else was working. No one paid any attention to him. I guess we were all in our own work mode, and I guess you can pass as official when you wear a blazer and carry a clipboard. Now I don’t have full proof of his intentions, but Charles picked up the contact information of several other young female pages.
Eventually my gig as an audience page ended. I found no work through any of my contacts and signed up with a temp agency, where I should have gone straight from graduating.
Charles was never going to provide me with any help in my career. His insistent bragging about his equally lame daytime program became stronger, probably since he knew my job had ended.
My friends and I kept laughing at the messages sent by him. I always joked if I disappear, you know who did it! LOL.
I didn’t think people actually stalked in the work place. Only strangers off the street and crazy exes stalk, right? I never truly believed a person you make annoying small talk with at work could actually come after you.
It was when I received a text asking if he could come over and watch movies with me that I ended all communication. I wanted to gag. It wasn’t that vile of a question, but he made everything disgusting. I couldn’t stand him thinking I would ever want to hang out with him.
Charles continued to send me messages through text and email. I ignored. He’ll get the message, I thought. Nope. He continued with emails “Are you mad at me?” I kept ignoring, a little creeped out, but as long as I ignored it, I figured he would eventually leave me alone.
Coming off the subway from a temp job, I received a text from Charles
“Hi. Would u possibly consider accepting an invitation to have a bite to eat?”
No, Charles. I would not. I kept walking home through the rainstorm I got caught in. One block from my apartment, almost through the rain, I felt a presence.
I turned around. His hood was up and the rain poured over his head. This was my nightmare. He looked as if none of this was weird. The fact that he just so happened to be in my neighborhood. Me, someone who had been dodging his emails and texts. He didn’t consider that I did not want to talk to him, let alone see him. He smiled. I froze. Then out of nowhere my instincts finally kicked in.
“YOU NEED TO LEAVE ME ALONE!” I boomed through the neighborhood, so those around us knew it wasn’t an innocent chance meeting. They stopped and stared at him. I finally had control. He said, “OK,” and turned around.
It was somewhere between crying hysterically on the phone with my mom at the corner store and filing a police report that I started to loathe networking. I would pick working low wage temporary employment over acting professional and ambitious to gain the phone and email of someone who is potentially dangerous. The months before and after I graduated from college, I was lectured to make connections, create my LinkedIn profile and talk to people. Since my experience with Charles, I’m afraid to tell just anyone my aspirations and I don’t want to update my LinkedIn profile because I find it extremely invasive.
I don’t want this story to be a cautionary tale to soon-to-be graduates. You should network and you are allowed to put yourself out there. With that said, don’t let the Career Development lectures get to your head. Most likely you’re 22, you’re not a “professional,” you’re a kid. Be smart, do your craft, tell people what you want to do. If they talk to you totally off topic, be weary and state the discomfort. There will be people who care, but they can take time to find.
Most students will graduate jobless; let's try not to add a stalker to their woes.
*Name has been changed.