It is well established that networking is probably the best and most efficient way to get a job. Yet, just like we know that going to the dentist or doctor consistently is a good practice; many of us neglect things that we should do.
You may get nervous entering a room of people that you don’t know. In fact, you may even avoid networking situations. In my work, I constantly ask students “How are you looking for work?” After they tell me the various web sites that they are using my next question usually is, “And?” For which I tend to get a quizical look.
My take is: we may have fear or anxiety that keeps us from doing the things that we need to do. I understand this because I have always felt anxiety surrounding networking events or interactions because I am shy myself.
Here are some simple tips and strategies I have employed to help myself in the networking process:
Have a purpose:
For some shy people, it is much easier to interact with others when you have a reason rather than going in “cold”.
A few examples of “having a purpose” at your networking event:
- Volunteer-My favorite type of networking events were when I would volunteer at workshops, conventions, etc. I felt that if I had a purpose, such as maintaining a certain area or providing customer service, then it was easier to engage in conversation with others. In fact, people will seek you out because they may need your assistance. As a shy person myself, the initial approach is a huge source of my anxiety; volunteering at an event cuts down the probability that I will have to be the initiator.
- Network via social media before an initial meeting- If you are going to a conference/event try searching Facebook to see if the event has a group page or even do a twitter search to see if others are talking about it. You may even want to pose a question yourself via twitter so that others may reach out to you. Point is, meet people before the event and get to know them a bit online. Then set up a time or place to meet at the networking event.
Being a shy person, networking situations may be easier if you have a plan of action.
Here are some keys to help you:
- Search for the “easy win”: While you should never take a networking situation lightly, you can increase your chances of having favorable networking encounters. Reach out to everyone you know-friends, family, classmates, and professors and let them know that you are looking for work in your industry.
- Create your one-minute commercial: The one-minute commercial is essentially your verbal portfolio. It should be used to create some structure for when you introduce yourself to people. Generally students can include their name, major, class projects, related experience, and your short-term career interests. This should be used as more of a loose guideline than a memorized script.
Start small first:
If you are a shy person, think about what might be a realistic goal for yourself in terms of meeting people and then try to reach it.
A few examples would be:
- Do the little things well: Use your listening skills or observational skills when interacting with others. Remember, non-verbal communication typically has a larger impact than what you actually say. Ask people that you meet for their business cards and initiate a follow-up email or other type of response.
- Seek out others like yourself: Try approaching someone who is standing alone. You might even start by acknowledging the fact that you are not the most comfortable at these types of events. Gauge their response. They may have feelings similar to you and this may help in networking with a fellow “novice”.
- Position yourself well: Find a place where people are gathering. It could be the refreshments area, near some demonstrations, or in a resting area. Perhaps you may find a more quiet area that you feel more comfortable in to approach others. The point is to find an area where you will be comfortable and there are opportunities to interact.
Networking is a skill like any other and it takes practice and effort, but over time even someone who views them-self as shy can become an effective networker. The key is to remember that networking is a two-way street and you want to offer a mutually beneficial relationship to someone.
Have you overcome your shyness in networking situations? If you have other tips or ideas, please add them to the comments section.
Joe is a career counselor at San Jose State University. His areas of specialization include: experiential education, resume development, interview preparation, job search strategy, and assessment inventories. In his role, he also serves as the community manager for the Career Center’s social media outlets. Connect with Joe on Twitter or follow samplings of his work via the SJSU Career Center Blog and Facebook fan page.