We all know that networking is one of the best ways to land a job. But if the thought of making small talk with complete strangers makes you break out in hives, it can feel like an impossible task.
As a former introvert who landed in the recruiting industry (where cold calling is part of the job description), I’ve learned the secret to a wallflower’s networking success: baby steps.
Here are a few ways you can approach the daunting task of meeting professional contacts and be able to hold your own at a cocktail reception.
Leverage social media
Social media has made it easier than ever to access other professionals and can help alleviate some of the pressure of reaching out.
Follow experts in your field on Twitter, taking note of who they’re following, what they’re talking about and how they’re engaging with other users.
Search for leaders in your industry and corporate recruiters on LinkedIn.
Once you’ve got an idea of who’s who, it’s time to start contacting them.
In your first message, show that you’ve read their profile, done your research and have a clear goal in mind.
For example: “I’m reaching out because I came across your profile and noticed that you’re in the magic industry. I’m extremely interested in becoming a Magician and was wondering if you’re open to meeting with me for coffee. I would really appreciate some guidance from such a well-respected person in this field.”
If they say no, no harm done. If they say yes, you just have a one-on-one meeting to tackle.
Prepare for the conversation by brainstorming questions you’d like to ask about your new contact’s career and background. If you’re prone to stage fright (a magician’s kryptonite), practice the questions with a friend and ask for their honest feedback.
Tell anyone – and everyone – about your goals
You never know who has connections to the CEO of your dream company, so approach everyone you meet as someone who could help open doors. Tell them you’re trying to break into a tough industry. For argument’s sake, let’s say goat farming.
The next time you’re out at a non-work event or party, pint of beer in hand, try this script when you meet someone new: “Hi, I’m Jane. I’m trying to break into the goat farming industry at the moment.”
Most of the time, the conversation will move on to something else. But if you keep this up for a month, you may stumble across someone who just started a goat farming operation and is looking for a young talented Goat Farmer just like you. Voila! Easy as that, a door has been opened.
Accept that things are going to get awkward
Once you’ve had a crack at the two previous steps, it’s time to take off the training wheels. The quickest way to find a group of all your networking targets is to attend those dreaded industry conventions, panel discussions or on-campus recruitment events.
If you know you’re liable to chicken out at the first sign of weather-related small talk, stay accountable by setting goals for yourself. Commit to something attainable, like meeting 10 new people at a function, and try your best to make it happen.
Full disclosure: The first time you try networking in a large group setting, it’s probably going to be painfully uncomfortable. You will likely make awkward small talk, potentially embarrass yourself and perhaps even break into a cold sweat. But I promise you, the more you put yourself out there and talk with mentors and peers, it will get easier. Aim for quality over quantity, and don’t give up.
When you’re networking, be yourself and accept that everyone commits the occasional social faux pas. If you are genuine, passionate and eager, people will take notice, and you will eventually be able to connect with a network of amazing people who will help launch your career.
Fellow introverts: How do you overcome your networking anxiety? Leave your tips in the comments below!
Photo credit: Adam Clark