In a gentle way you can shake the world ~ Mahatma Ghandi
After conducting hundreds of career counselling sessions, many on the topic of networking, I have made a few discoveries.
The first one is this: People hate networking.
Not one single person has expressed any form of delight when I suggest networking as a viable job search strategy.
It’s more like: Please Denise don’t make me do it, anything but that.
From my research this resistance is based around three main fears:
1) Fear of coming off as some kind of fake
2) Fear of what other people will think of you
3) Fear of not knowing what to say and ensuing awkward pauses
I totally get these fears (and if you’re in Melbourne I’ve got you covered, see below). I’m an introvert who used to dread networking to the depths of my being.
But your resistance is a problem because no matter what your career path may be, the best way to find a job is always gonna be through people you know.
This nugget of truth doesn’t come as good news to introverts. For us, facing large roomfuls of strangers is uncomfortable at the best of times, without the added pressure of having to make small talk and ‘impress’ potential employers and contacts.
If you are only interested in networking for what you stand to gain, you’re never going to feel wholly confident and at ease with that exchange. And the predominant advice to offer assistance to others first as a sort of quid pro quo is no less transactional.
So here’s what I want you to do.
And start connecting.
Don’t worry about your elevator pitch, your business cards or the dress code. I heard Susan Cain (author of Quiet) say recently that she doesn’t network anymore. Instead, she seeks out kindred spirits wherever she goes.
So next time you go to an event look for one person, not to impress or offer assistance to, but simply for the purposes of connecting at a human level. Talk about work if you want, or movies, dogs or this awesome TV show.
Free yourself from traditional forms of ‘networking’ forever.
It could be the start of a beautiful friendship, which was surely the whole point of networking to begin with.
Psst: If this advice resonated with you, I’m running a Networking for Introverts workshop in Melbourne on Friday 5 May. Learn how to play to your (many) strengths as an introvert, create the right mindset for successful networking, network in a way that suits your personality and discover where to find your ‘kindred spirits’. You can book your ticket here.
Back when I started my freelance writing business I knew clients weren’t going to show up unless I put myself out there. I had to start networking right away. The problem was I had no idea what I was doing. Much as I like people, I’m an introvert so I was never going to be good at throwing myself into the middle of conversations. Cue lots of standing around awkwardly holding a wine glass.
I have to hand it to myself. I tried it all. Local networking. BNI. Speed networking. Meetup. I went to all of them. I didn’t always get clients but I learned a lot about what to do (and not do) in networking situations.
When I first started out I thought networking was going to as many events as possible, giving people my elevator spiel, handing out lots of business cards and voila… people would call and hire me.
But that’s not how to network and it never felt right to me. Networking isn’t about selling yourself, it’s about building relationships.
It’s about being genuine in your interactions and asking people questions about what they do and what kind of challenges they’re facing. That’s how you find out useful information that will help your job (or client) search. Don’t forget, networking isn’t just something you do to find a job, it’s also hugely valuable when you’re making a career shift or making a decision on which career path is right for you.
Here are a couple of power tips to help you start networking even if you break out in hives just thinking about it.
1) Network in the groups you’re already in
I’m a great believer in pursuing the path of least resistance. Why make things hard on yourself? Start networking in the groups you’re already in, whether it’s your kids’ sports events, social outings or a hobby like a running group meet-up. Ask people about what they do, what they enjoy about their work and how they got their jobs.
2) Bring a wingman or woman
If you want to attend a networking event, bring along a wingman or woman. This is a particularly effective tactic if you’re an introvert because hopefully your more extroverted friend can introduce you to people and help you out if the conversation stalls. Your comfort levels will go up automatically when you know you’re not going to be left hanging in the corner like a wallflower.
3) Create small challenges
If you’re nervous about attending events like I used to be, give yourself small challenges and then reward yourself for a job well done. For example, stand up and ask the speaker a question if you’re attending a conference, or give yourself permission to go home after you’ve met and talked to two new people. Remember networking is more about sustained effort than pushing yourself to the max at one event.
4) Practice having conversations with strangers
Another issue I used to have with networking was making small talk. It only occurred to me later why this was. I hate small talk. I’ve never been good at it. But if you want to broaden your network you’re going to have to learn to get good at it. You can do this by practicing talking to strangers or people you interact with on a regular basis, like checkout people at the supermarket or the woman who works at the post office. Strike up conversations with people you don’t know. The more you do this, the more natural it will become and you will be a power networker in no time.
Want to learn more about networking?
I’m running a Networking for Introverts workshop in Melbourne on Friday 5th May where I’ll be teaching powerful strategies for building your network, and I’d love to have you there. You will learn how to create a network even if you’re starting from scratch, how to approach people you want to meet both online and in person, how to network your way into a new job and how to build your confidence so that you can network with ease.
When I see someone fall down, get back up, and say, “Damn. That really hurt, but this is important to me and I’m going in again”—my gut reaction is, “What a badass” ~ Brené Brown
A couple of years ago I interviewed for a job I really wanted. It was only a casual job but I knew it was a great opportunity to get my foot in the door and work with some great people. The only problem was I blew it because I was so nervous. I was blindsided because I expected to ace that interview. And I should have totally aced that interview. Instead when the time came, I could not make my brain connect with my mouth.
I left feeling mortified and every time I did a mental replay I felt more ashamed. By the end of the day I had convinced myself that I could never apply to work there again.
When I reflected on this later I realised that my perfectionism was driving the ‘asshole’ story in my head. So I came to my senses and reached out to one of the interviewers. They offered to give me feedback, we kept in touch and recently I contacted him to see if we could have coffee or a phone call. Of course he said yes (this happens way more often than you think by the way). I called him and we had a great conversation. If he remembered the interview he never let on.
Looking for a new job can leave you feeling raw and vulnerable. You’re putting yourself out there and some people are going to flat out say no. Like me, your confidence might take a hit. But it’s all fine as long as you learn from it. If you can worry less about what people think (a perfectionist tendency) and instead focus on what you can improve next time around then you’re on the right track.
In the words of Brené Brown: When perfectionism is driving, shame is riding shotgun. And as I discovered, shame can lead to unhelpful stories in your head that get stuck on repeat, blocking you from getting ahead.
When this happens my advice is to throw those guys out of the car and get back out there any way you can.
Even if, like me, all you do is pick up the phone.
Because that phone call led to a job offer.
Mistakes won’t define your future unless you let them.
Keep on rising like a badass.