Your palms are sweating, you’re nervous and you’ve forgotten all your industry-related research. It might sound like you’re anxious about interviewing for your dream job, but for many, attending a networking event can be even more stressful than a high-level interview. If you struggle at networking events, know that you’re far from alone.
Difficulty with networking runs the gamut, from entry-level professionals to company founders and entrepreneurs — and it can be especially difficult for introverts, who make up as much as 50% of the population.
Whether you're an introvert who finds large events draining or an extrovert who hates small talk, you can’t exactly ignore networking. In fact, according to a recent survey, more than 40% of employees found their current jobs through networking.
If you're not a "people person" or if you're just plain intimidated, below are six tips for flourishing in a networking situation.
1. Look for laid-back atmospheres
Stuffy networking events or job fairs might be your worst nightmare; it’s hard for most people to drop into a large crowd and impress. But it’s much easier when the atmosphere is more laid-back and relaxed. If you hate networking but need to network, look for events like informal lunches, dinners or even happy hours. MeetUps and alumni events (from college, graduate programs, fraternities or sororities, study abroad programs, etc.) may offer some of these more casual opportunities, so look into the groups that are currently operating in your area.
Tech crawls, like pub crawls but with more tech talk, can be a more relaxed approach to rubbing elbows.Tech crawls, like pub crawls but with more tech talk, can be a more relaxed approach to rubbing elbows. Hackathons can also be a great way for tech talent to mingle, since there's common ground to discuss and attendees can focus on work if the mingling aspect becomes overwhelming.
Just remember: You’re trying to impress others with your poise and professionalism, not have a wild night out. Decide on a drink minimum (ideally either one or two drinks, depending on your tolerance), before stepping foot into the event — and stick to your plan. You don’t want to make the wrong kind of impression on potential professional contacts.
Volunteering can be a great way to do good and expand your network at the same time. Look for volunteer opportunities in your area of interest or industry. Working together side-by-side with other volunteers, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to bond, as well as discuss your career objectives in a casual setting.
3. Get in a line — any line
It can be overwhelming trying to find an opportunity to connect when you walk into a giant room with no connections in sight. If you're attending a big networking event and don’t know what to do, you can mitigate the awkwardness by chatting with others in line (for food, coffee, meet-and-greets, etc.).
This gives you a purpose other than circuiting the room endlesslyThis gives you a purpose other than circuiting the room endlessly and it also gives you a captive audience of other waiting professionals.
4. Go to the source
Networking isn’t only about going to events and rubbing elbows with the movers and shakers. Sometimes it’s about taking the initiative to go after your goals and pinpointing specific companies where you’d like to work. If you're networking for the purpose of finding a job or making a career shift, construct a short list of companies where you can imagine being happy spending your nine-to-five.
Then make inroads at those companies in whatever ways you can. Send over your resume, ask for an informational interview, seek mutual contacts who may have connections at the organization, and connect with current employees on social media. Be assertive, but never pushy — and always remember to thank everyone you connect with for their time.
5. Get social on social media
If the idea of getting dressed up and making small talk makes you want to run for the hills, there might still be a solution:
What if you could network with the movers and shakers in your industry, all while sitting on your couch in your pajamas?What if you could network with the movers and shakers in your industry, all while sitting on your couch in your pajamas? Such is the power of social media, making it easier than ever before to build up a personal brand, take part in industry conversations and build personal connections with those in your field.
Best of all, with social media you can form a network from sea to shining sea, since geography doesn’t hinder the socially savvy. Look up industry-related LinkedIn groups, search out field-specific Twitter chats and connect with current employees on the Facebook pages of your preferred workplaces. Social media can be a great way for even the most nervous networker to cultivate contacts.
Social media can come in handy for in-person networking events, too. If you'll be attending an event that provides a list of attendees or speakers in advance, reach out to your top potential connections ahead of time on Twitter — when the time comes to meet up IRL, you'll have already gotten the awkward introductions out of the way, or at the very least, you'll have a go-to conversation starter.
Once you’ve gone to the event and made the contacts, it’s important to keep your new connections in your professional network — be sure to follow-up with contacts a few days after meeting in order to maintain a relationship and keep yourself top-of-mind for upcoming opportunities.
There are plenty of apps to save or digitize business cards so that those little pieces of paper turn into entries in your address book. You might also want to use an email app like Boomerang to remind you to follow up with individuals, or put an alert in your calendar to remind you that it’s time to follow up with your new professional contacts.
Networking is too important to give up on — despite some potential awkwardness. Even if you hate big crowds or small talk, these simple tips can help you make the connections you need to nab the job of your dreams.
Tags: BUSINESS, JOB SEARCH SERIES, JOBS, MASHABLE CAREERS, NETWORKING