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Can bars boost your career?

OPINION

(Chicago Tribune )
August 28, 2012|By Hector Luis Alamo Jr., @hectorluisalamo | For RedEye

I love the bar scene. Most 20-somethings do. But if bars are great for fun and relaxation, then surely all their magic is nixed by the networking events.

Network "parties," they have the nerve to call these feeding frenzies. There's nothing more horrifying for a young up-and-comer—as I like to see myself—and, unfortunately, nothing more necessary.

I was invited to just such an event recently, and they're a nightmare. You immediately think of how you'll be required to dress. Carrying out the essential research online, you gauge which outfit you'll choose based on how swanky the spot looks. Personally, I take no joy in quarterbacking my formalwear, which is as comfortable as handcuffs.

In a boldly casual move, I opted for designer jeans, a comfortable button-up and the shiny black shoes that had been gathering dust in my closet. (I refuse to wear a suit to my own funeral; they'll have to bury me in a wifebeater.)

The bus ride there gave me time to organize my thoughts—too much time, in fact. When you have that much time, you begin to realize the irony of staging networking events at bars. How am I supposed to be smart, insightful and buzzed all at the same time? What a cruel joke! They might as well place my dentist's office smack-dab in the middle of Six Flags.

My brain gave an impromptu pep rally: You deserve to be there, H-man. Don't sweat it. You're so money right now.

Rally time was over as soon as I reached the club and realized I'd arrived dangerously underdressed. The doorman let everyone enter but questioned me with a confused look on his face. Judging by the way I was dressed, he assumed I was lost.

My inner cheerleader abruptly turned on me: You're such a freakin' idiot for picking those jeans! You clearly don't belong here, dummy. Would it have killed you to at least look the part?

Once inside, everyone was at least 10 or 15 years older. Where was the bar? I needed to order up a stiff one—pronto. The bartender handed me a glass of some crappy cocktail that cost twice as much as the ones at my local dive. They should be twice as strong, but they hardly ever are.

As the night progressed, I became more relaxed and even felt somewhat like my usual self. Suddenly, I was laughing, like for real.

I discovered that the most excruciating part—the meet-and-greet with strangers while sober stuff—ends after the first three drinks. (Yes, I measure time by the number of libations consumed.) It turns out networking events are good places to meet people with like interests and increase your face-name recognition, all while in a semi-comfortable setting.

So I was wrong about networking at bars. Who knew? In that case, I have two words for any well-meaning soul looking to organize one of these "parties."

Open bar.

Hector Luis Alamo Jr. is a RedEye special contributor.

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