No news here: You cannot find a new job without networking. You have no choice in the matter. Yet many job seekers are so shy that the very idea of going to a networking event where they will have to introduce themselves to strangers results in a panic attack. Sorry, but you have to get over it!
I have eight simple steps for successfully networking for those people who would rather have root canal without anesthesia:
Step One: Know who you are:
You have to be able to introduce yourself to someone in less than 10 seconds. It’s the classic elevator pitch. The shy have an advantage in that they are so scared that they don’t want to talk a lot, unlike those who are not the least bit intimidated introducing themselves to strangers. They often come across as obnoxious and self-centered because all they want to do is talk about themselves.
Keep it really short. Simply state your profession. Don’t say that you are unemployed. Don’t praise yourself. None of this, “I’m an award winning…” nonsense. No one cares! But add something unique. For example, “Hi. I’m Bruce. I’m an executive recruiter and career counselor. I work with everyone but the mission of my company is to promote the hiring of veterans.” The idea is for you to provide information for the start of a real conversation.
Now comes the important part: Listening.
Step Two: Know your audience:
You keep your introduction short because you do not know what to say. How can you? You don’t know anything about the person to whom you are talking. Therefore, your next step is to ask, “What do you do?” Based on the answer, you will know how to continue introducing yourself.
Step Three: Know what you want:
Just as a business owner networks to get new business, a job seeker networks to find their next job. But networking is not about exchanging business cards. That is not networking. Networking is building relationships and that takes time. So your aim in networking is to find people who may be able to assist you.
No one is going to stick their neck out for a stranger. No one is going to go to their boss and say, “I met a guy last night. He’s looking for work. Do we have anything? He seems nice.” It’s not going to happen. What may happen is that once a person trusts that you will not embarrass them, then they will make introductions. It’s a process. It takes time.
So when meeting someone for the first time, all you want is to see if there is a reason to start building a relationship. Simply put, is it worth inviting them out for a cup of coffee? If it is, do it. And remember, most people fail in their networking activities because they do not follow-up. If you ask someone for help or advice, and they provide it, do what they say otherwise they will not help you in the future. And then keep in touch so they know the results. Never be afraid to ask someone for advice. It’s a compliment.
For example, Jane tells you to contact Joe. Send the e-mail. Tell Jane you sent it. If you hear back from Joe, let her know about it and what has happened. If you don’t hear from him, contact Jane and ask for advice on how to proceed. She can’t help you if she does not know what is happening.
Of course, you can’t build a relationship if you are silenced by shyness. So here are five simple steps to overcoming your shyness at events.
Step One: Arrive early. If you are the first to arrive, two things will happen. First, the host (see Step Two) will have to speak with you and will have to introduce you to the second person to arrive. Second, the next person to arrive will have no choice but to talk to you because you are the only one there! That will make it easier for you to talk to the next person to arrive.
Step Two: Find the organizer/host and introduce yourself. Thank them for the invitation. They will be busy and will have no choice but to introduce you to one or more attendees.
Step Three: Find your own kind. Shy people can always recognize other shy people. They are the ones staring out the window pretending to be interested in the view. Go over and introduce yourself. They will appreciate it.
Step Four: Set a goal. When you arrive promise yourself that you will not leave until you have collected a certain number of business cards. At the first networking event that I attended after I started my business I set a goal for myself of collecting five business cards. Yes, I was very shy. That’s why I know this process that I am presenting works. It worked for me. In any case, it took me three hours to get those five cards. Next event the goal was 10 cards and it only took me about an hour. Now I can leave an event with as many cards as I want. Practice makes perfect. And nothing succeeds like success. Which brings me to…
Step Five: Follow-up. As already noted, networking is building relationships. That is why follow-up is so critical. You have to do something with all of those business cards you are collecting. If you really like someone and think they can help you, call them the next day and invite them for a cup of coffee. If you kind of like them, send them an e-mail asking when you can get together. If they don’t respond, then you know that it would be a waste of your time meeting them. You want to focus on those people who can help you. Rude people can’t help you!
One last note: When you meet someone, always end the conversation by asking how you can be of assistance to them. Thank them and wait. If they do not reciprocate, if they don’t ask how they can help you, you know you don’t have to bother calling or e-mailing them. They are only interested in themselves and clearly do not know what they are doing.