One of my first tasks in the new job search is confronting the fear of networking. We know how important it is in the job search process, critical really. Still, I tend to be introverted so the idea of talking with strangers with the intention of asking for a job doesn't sit well with me. Networking is even more important in my search because I am new to Chicagoland and don't really know anyone professionally.
So what to do? I have compiled some tips I have used in the past. The underlying theme for most of these is changing your frame of mind to take the fear factor out of networking. Hopefully these tips will help those of you like me who feel intimidated by the thought of networking during the job search and help make it something you want to do.
1. Get out there. Don't be afraid to sign up for an event. Sometimes taking the first step is the hardest but you have to start to engage to see results.
2. Treat the event like a party. Networking receptions are great opportunities to meet new contacts but entering a room full of strangers can be daunting. I think it helps to mentally prepare before you go. Think positive. One thought that works for me is, I might not know anyone when I walk in but I will definitely know some people by the time I leave. Once you're there, relax, maybe have a drink, and don't make it feel like you're at work.
3. Don't forget to smile. The networking event is not the time to look or sound like the weight of the world is upon your shoulders. Smile, especially when you talk. It does wonders to the tone of your voice.
4. Remember, you're not alone. It might feel that way when you walk in and see so many groups of people already talking but that's not true at all. You will be surprised at how many people there are just like you and are there to meet more new contacts.
5. Take the pressure off yourself by listening more. Nervous that what you say will turn off a potential contact? Well then, talk less, listen more. Plus you are trying to learn how others spend their days and what their companies are like.
6. Do your homework. Sure, your mind will be in a party-like frame of mind but you still have to sound intelligent once called upon. Be knowledgeable about a few hot topics in your field so you can make an impact if they come up. They may not but it can only help you if you are prepared just in case. Besides, you are going to have to prepare this for upcoming interviews.
7. Keep the conversation going long after the party ends. Admittedly, this where I fall down, hard. I am good at making an initial contact and getting business cards but I am horrible at keeping in touch. People are busy, life happens, so when after months or even years pass by I am so afraid of reaching out. Will they see right through me knowing I have a job search related ask?
The first follow-up after the event is to reach out to your new contacts on LinkedIn and invite them to be a connection. Nine times out of ten they will accept. If they don't, their loss. Also write down some of the topics you talked about because I guarantee you will forget. This way if you see a story come across on that topic you can email it to them as a way to restart the conversation. I thought you might be interested in this. Another way to reach out is to meet up for coffee if schedules allow. Again, schedules can be crazy so you will be lucky if this happens only a few times a year, but that is totally okay. Some contact is better than no contact. Plus you don't want to be a stalker.
Now all I have to do is take a deep breath, not to mention my own advice, and actually start networking.
What networking strategies have worked for you?
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