In our digital age, the job application process feels anonymous. You submit your resume and cover letter online andit disappears into what seems like a black hole. Does it ever reach anyone? Does anyone even read the letter you’ve worked so hard on? You may never know. This makes it more important than ever to know someone in your field or at the company you’re applying to.
Networking is essential to building professional relationships. It can help you learn about your desired industry, land your dream job or make a career change. Creating and maintaining a strong network can bring you from an invisible online applicant to a job seeker who was personally recommended for a job, internship or informational interview.
Not everyone feels comfortable stepping into a room full of strangers. The pressure to make connections can cause people to over-think and over-stress about networking. It’s tough to make a good impression when you’re sweating over how to keep the conversation going. Whether you’re an introvert or someone who just gets nervous networking, here are a few tips to make it easier:
1) Prepare Beforehand: Most people will prepare for a test, a meeting or an interview, so why not prepare for networking? If you’re not outgoing or have trouble coming up with conversation starters, plan out what you want to say or ask others ahead of time. It’s also helpful to develop a short elevator pitch about yourself, so you’re ready when you hear the inevitable “what do you do?” question at a networking event. When in doubt, just ask the other person about themselves.
2) Bring a Friend: You don’t have to go it alone! Enlist a friend to attend a networking event with you. Even if they aren’t in the same industry as you, it can be good practice and talking to strangers might make you feel less awkward with a friend by your side. Plus, the two of you can find the other straggler to strike up a conversation. Approaching strangers is a lot easier in a pair.
3) Focus on Quality over Quantity: Many introverts can find themselves over-stimulated and downright exhausted after talking with a lot of people at once. If you feel the same way, focus on only a few connections instead of trying to introduce yourself to everyone in the room. Go up to someone who looks shy or reserved and strike up a long conversation. They’ll appreciate having someone to talk to, and you’ll make a strong connection. Give yourself a goal of having three or four significant conversations before you leave the event.
4) Ask Interesting Questions: A cut-and -dry, overused question like “where do you work?” can result in a pretty short reply. Most people at a networking event have just left work, and they may not want to keep talking about their jobs. Try more personal questions, like “what do you do for fun?” Odds are, you’ll find a hobby in common. You may think you have to talk about work to make a professional connection, but getting to know someone personally can be just as effective.
5) Learn Your Strengths: Whether in meetings or in networking sessions, the person who talks the most and the loudest can at first glance seem the most valued. That’s not always the case. Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking and her TED Talk will teach you more about what qualities make someone an introvert, and how valuable those qualities are to a company. They will make you proud to call yourself an introvert.
Hopefully these tips will stop you from feeling overly anxious, not knowing what to say, or panicking if no one talks to you at first. Remember, everyone there has the same networking goals as you: to talk to and connect with others.