You have a security clearance, all the right certifications and amazing skills. You’ve put yourself on the market online, but you know in-person networking yields great results and is a critical part of your job search strategy. But you also happen to be a bit…socially awkward. You’re the kind of person who actually enjoys eating dinner alone, you detest large parties and gatherings where you don’t know anyone, and a career fair may as well be torture, as far as you’re concerned. Eye contact isn’t your forte, and you’re frequently mistaken for characters on ‘The Big Bang Theory.’ The idea that personality plays a role in the hiring process irks you, but it shouldn’t. Just because you’re not a social butterfly doesn’t mean you can’t put networking to your advantage.
Yes, socially awkward job seeker, networking is for you, too. Here are three tips to make the most of it.
1. Choose wisely
A career fair probably isn’t the best place for you to shine. The long lines, the inherently awkward process of trying to give your elevator speech to one recruiter after the next – it can be a downer even for those who love networking. Pick your events carefully. Choose something you’d actually enjoy attending. Book clubs, hack-a-thons and music festivals can be great places to network – really. The closer to your industry the event is, the more likely you are to find viable job opportunities, but every networking opportunity can lead somewhere. Meetup.com is a great place to scan for events in your area. Think outside-of-the-box. It will be much easier to start a conversation if it’s clear you want to be there.
2. Have Goals Before You Go
Just showing up at an event isn’t enough. Make clearly defined goals before you go, otherwise you’re destined to remain a wallflower. Your goal could be to get two business cards/personal contacts at the event. Maybe it’s to introduce yourself to five new people. It could also be to set up one follow-up appointment for coffee with a specific individual. Whatever it is, have a plan before you set one foot through the door. If you meet your objective, reward yourself with a trip to Starbucks or a stiff drink. If you fail, get back out there to another event soon.
3. Bring a friend
Networking isn’t unlike dating. It’s easier to pick someone up with a wing man (or woman). Bringing a friend to an event can be a great way to break the ice. You’ll feel bolstered by the support and it may be easier to start conversations. Keep in mind that couples, in particularly, can be hard to approach – so if you bring an opposite-sex wing-person, make sure one of you is assertive enough to break the ice into other conversations. A networking event isn’t successful if you bring a friend and spend the whole evening talking to them.
Networking should be part of every job search strategy, regardless of your personality. Even if you’re currently employed, keeping up your network of contacts will pay dividends. The more solid is your career network, the more secure your future prospects.