Networking has turned into such a bad word – especially for those who aren’t naturally outgoing. Going to social and professional events can be both intimidating and draining for many people. But ignoring networking isn’t an option, given the importance of word-of-mouth and personal connections in the hiring process. Companies rely heavily on internal referral programs, so if you know someone well or even if you’ve just interacted one time, you have a much higher chance of landing an interview. Thankfully, there are ways to make yourself more at ease with it.
There are multiple ways to network. Some will make you uncomfortable, but remind yourself that you can recharge by giving yourself “me” time right after ,or by listening to music – whatever restores your energy. And like learning to play an instrument, practice will make it easier, as well.
1. Begin in a safe place.
Start practicing your networking skills while still employed. When you have a job, not only is it easier to talk about what you do, you will be more self-assured when discussing your work. Start by reaching out to people who you don’t know well in your company. You can seek them out to learn about their career path. This will give you a jump-start at flexing your networking muscles.
2. Work on your elevator pitch.
If the thought of an elevator pitch fills you with dread, you’re not alone. But it’s an important skill to be able to communicate quickly to another person what it is you do in terms they will understand. How can you tell your listener in 30 seconds why he or she should want to get to know you better? Keep it simple. Briefly explain what you do, where you want to go, and why.
3. Think broadly about networking.
There is not only one way to network. It can happen in a social, non-professional setting, in small or large groups, one-on-one, or it doesn’t even have to be in person. Write a brief introduction with a question so the person clearly understands your intent. For example, if you meet someone working in your career field, follow up: “Would you be willing to answer a few questions via email? I’d love to learn more about how you got into your field.” This way it doesn’t feel like you’re pressuring them into spending precious time on a phone call or meeting, and they can answer at their leisure.
In person, after you use your elevator pitch as an introduction, ask questions about the other person. This is a good way to take the focus off yourself and allows you to learn a lot about the other person. People develop close connections more often about hobbies and interests they have in common rather than work, so go ahead and ask what the person does in their spare time or what book they are reading.
4. Develop relationships by giving.
Remember to offer your help to the person from whom you are seeking guidance. It could be as simple as telling them to let you know if you can introduce anyone in your network to them or sending an article you think they would be interested in. Moreover, when you help someone out, they’re likely to help you at some point. Make offering to help colleagues a general practice and someone will be more likely to help you in the future.
Networking is not just for extroverts. Use opportunities where you feel more relaxed either in person or on social media or email to practice your engagement skills. Whatever methods you choose, the most important thing is that you clearly define what it is you are asking of the person. It could begin with asking questions to make you more at ease followed by a targeted request for guidance on your next career move. Over time, it will become easier, and remember afterward to give yourself some alone time to recharge.