How to Network If You’re Not Good at It
The current wisdom is that networking is the best way to find a job. Not only do you stand out from the competition that way because you are now a known entity, you also find the hidden job market, the 85% of open jobs that are not posted on job boards.
If you are like me though, it is intimidating to walk into a room of strangers and have to strike up a conversation. When I was out of work in 2002, I would go to networking events but I caught myself talking with the people I already knew and in this case, since I met most of them at other networking events, they too were unemployed. I knew I had to meet other people but I was not comfortable doing so.
At that time I was a Business Analyst so I turned to research to help identify a way to conqueror or at least reduce my fear. In the books and articles I read and from my own experiences there are a few basic principles that are true in other aspects of life:
“When faced with a daunting task – like eating an elephant – do it one bite at a time / People say the most interesting conversationalist is a good listener / Most people do not enjoy networking / You will receive back if you help others / A handshake does not a relationship make”
The Networking Principle of Eating an Elephant
I am now a keynote and motivational speaker so people find it unbelievable when I share that I am an introvert. To me that is not odd at all. I am very comfortable among strangers if I have a job to do whether it is as a host or speaker. If I am just one of the participants, I prefer to watch people than have to strike up a conversation.
In many of the books I read, they suggested giving yourself a goal or task. An example would be to meet everyone in the room who has on a splash of red, or meet everyone who is facing east. I put this principle to work at one such event. At this particular event, there were significantly more men than women so I decided to meet all of the women.
I approached the first lady, introduced myself, and told her I was not comfortable with networking so I was going to meet all the women in the room and she was the first. I then asked her to tell me about herself. After she told me about herself, she asked if she could come along on this journey because she too did not like networking. Before we were done, we ended up with all of the women on one side of the room because all of them asked to join us as we met other women.
The Networking Principle of Being a Good Conversationalist by Listening
Most people are flattered when they are asked about themselves if the person asking seems sincerely interested. At networking events though, too many job seekers go with their agenda in mind and forget to ask other people to share their story and spend the time listening with interest and sincerity. Instead too many job seekers listen with their agenda in mind, without any sincere interest in meeting the other person, just listening for how the other person can be used to forward their own agenda.
Ask them what attracted them to this meeting. Ask about them, listen with your complete attention, and end with asking them what you can do to help them.
The next time you are engaged in a conversation with someone else, audit yourself on your listening skills. Do you interrupt the speaker? Do you change the subject to you (“I did that too” “I am from there.”)? Do you look about the room as they are speaking? If so, you are not a good listener.
Do you ask questions to get the person to expand on what was said? Do you make and hold eye contact – giving your full attention? These are signs of someone who is really listening. If you are not a good listener, Google or read books on active listening.
The Networking Principle of Most People Do not Enjoy Networking
As illustrated in the Eating an Elephant Principle, most people do not enjoy networking. The people at these events who stand in large groups are in those huddles because they know each other and that is their comfort zone. Look around the room and see how many people are already seated by themselves or standing alone.
A technique for networking is to approach someone who is already seated alone or standing alone and introduce you. Draw in anyone else who is nearby and also alone, asking her to join your group of two. Introduce yourself and the person you just met and ask her what it was that brought/drew her to this event and ask her about her. You soon will be known as a fearless networker.
The Networking Principle of You will Receive Back if you Help Others
Think about the time people helped you. Don’t you feel appreciative and more willing to help them should the occasion arise? Instead of approaching each networking opportunity as an event that is all about you, go with the idea that you may be able to help others. Spend time in each interaction trying to determine how you can be of assistance to others.
The Networking Principle of a Handshake does not a Relationship Make
Too many job seekers network with the misconception that just because you met someone, that person will be forever committed to helping your search. Even if he said he would help, it does not mean it will remain in the forefront of his mind. Life happens.
It is your responsibility to follow-up with the people you meet at an event even if they offered to get back to you. Regardless of what they said, the responsibility is yours.
Different people will have differing degrees of availability and interest in helping you. Determine who to stay in touch with. Make it more than a single meeting or an e-mail relationship. Offer to treat them to coffee/soda or lunch so you can develop a rapport with them. The better they know you and the closer you are to them, the more likely they will be to open up their network of close contacts to you or recommend you to a colleague.
Even if you do not enjoy networking and are not good at it, these steps will make your networking events more productive and maybe even a little more enjoyable.