It isn’t just the introverts among us who cringe at the thought of networking into a new job.
Although I don’t consider myself an introvert, even I’ve been at the mercy of networking jitters—battling dry mouth as I picked up the phone, worried that I’ll be a nuisance to the person on the other end of the line. I too have attended events where I glanced around nervously, not knowing who to talk to or what to say.
But the cringe-worthiness of networking as a job-search activity lies in a limited understanding of what it means and a tendency to associate it with its least effective forms (like walking up to a stranger and handing them a business card or aggressively pushing an introduction).
The following are three tips that will help you engage in more effective networking actions while keeping your anxiety at bay:
1). Start with your inner circle.
Stop thinking about the vast sea of strangers to meet and awkwardly ask favors of. Think about the people who know you, like you, and want to help you. Don’t assess who among them are connected to your targeted companies or who might be privy to information on job openings. Think simply about reaching out to friends, family, and colleagues and updating them on your transition. Draw up a list of people you will reestablish a connection with.
2). Don’t focus the conversation on job openings.
When you reach out, don’t center the discussion on their knowledge of job opportunities. This will put pressure on them and likely end the conversation because they won’t be able to help. Instead, ask for assistance in expanding your network. Share the companies you are exploring in your search and ask if they have any contacts they might introduce you to in those companies, even if they aren’t decision makers. If you reach out to 100 of your contacts, imagine the prospects that could result from this exercise! And yes, at some point, you will call, meet, or connect with someone new, but at least it will be through a warm introduction from a mutual contact.
With the new people you’ll meet, you’ll use the same strategy of sharing your list, perhaps asking them about their experience with the company, and simply getting to know them—without putting them on the spot about openings.
3). Make helping others one of your primary goals.
It will reduce your anxiety when reaching out to know that you can add value to your network. With each conversation, make it a point to identify how you can help your contact. Don’t let the entire conversation revolve around you and what you are trying to achieve. Ask questions, listen to their needs, and be on the lookout for ways you can help or introductions you can make. The more you do this, the more you will realize the value that you bring to others, which will in turn strengthen your confidence when reaching out.