Networking, as anyone who has ever networked can attest, is terrible enough even when it goes smoothly. But in some cruel, cosmic joke on small-talkers and job-seekers, it’s also a situation ripe with potential faux pas: You can go too hard on the brown-nosing, or come off as too nakedly needy, or fail to stay in the safe middle ground between boastful and overly self-deprecating. Or, perhaps worst of all, you can get caught in a lie.
And one of the easiest ways to achieve any one of those, as Leah Fessler recently outlined in a cringe-inducing anecdote for Quartz, is to name-drop. More often than not, actively reaching for impressive-sounding acquaintances to bring into the conversation won’t actually make you seem more impressive — in fact, it’s more likely to have the opposite effect.
As Fessler explained, there are two main reasons why name-dropping typically backfires. The first is that it undercuts any confidence you’re projecting, making your sales pitch — because you are selling yourself, in a way — seem less credible. “Name-dropping usually comes from a person who is uncomfortable, anxious, and doubting their own contribution to the situation,” organizational psychologist Liane Davey told Fessler. “[It] always reveals the same thing, which is that one doesn’t feel their accomplishments, or personal brand, speaks for itself, so they try to heighten their brand by associating with one that’s much stronger.”
The second is that it’s a gamble. You’re banking on the fact that whomever you’re talking to will be impressed by the name you drop, but your conversation partner could just as easily think that person is a jerk, or an idiot, or just straight-up have no idea who they are.
Or, on the other end of the spectrum, maybe that person just happens to be their good friend, and then your conversation partner mentions you next time they meet up, and the person whose name was dropped either reveals that you’re not as close as you made it seem or — as happened with Fessler — has no idea who you are, and your little stretching of the truth comes back to bite you in the butt. It’s probably better to stick to what you have to offer, regardless of who you know — or, even better, don’t make it about you at all: the kind of networking that feels less slimy and keeps you on safe ground.