This past year has been a journey and lesson in how important networking is to career success. As some of you may know I was a very shy teenager, often choosing to close myself off to people that I didn't know as a defense mechanism. This was a result of my own insecurities, and although I have come a long way from my insecure high school days, I still find that my first instinct can be to close myself off at networking events.
When job searching, building a business, or simply building your personal brand, networking can be a valuable tool. I used to be scared of the word networking, it sounded inauthentic, like I was going out to see how I can use people. I felt no motivation to go out and meet people, and have to judge them on the basis of what I thought they could do for me. Over the last year I have learned that networking can be so much more.
The biggest thing that I learned is that networking is an excellent way to make new friends and build a community of like-minded individuals that can support you in all areas of your life. At one point I was meeting so many great people that I felt like I must not really be working on my business if I’m having this much fun. (Then it also dawned on me that my business is getting to know women and what their needs and concerns are regarding their careers.)
I went from being someone that would only go to networking events with a buddy to someone that regularly attended events for different groups alone. Now I’m not saying that I no longer get nervous or that the shy high school girl does not want to take over, but I have learned some tips to help me navigate the situation.
Here’s what has helped me:
Have a goal: Before a networking event I generally decide how many people I want to connect with before I leave. Sometimes it’s to have 5 career related conversations with women, or to meet 50% of the people in the room.
Spend a little: I love going to free events, but I find that the need to bolt out the door when I’m feeling uncomfortable can be unbearable when I haven’t spent any money. I will generally pay to check my coat just to stop the urge to leave if I come across any awkward moments. I often find the more I pay for an event the more likely I am to stay to the end.
Come Prepared: I have about 3 opening questions and I’m not afraid to use them over and over again. You’re pretty much getting “What do you do?” “Is this your first time here or have you visited this group before?” and “Where are you from?” For me it takes the pressure off of having to think of something clever or witty to say. Also I have found that everyone loves a compliment, so if I see something cute I make sure to mention it.
Everyone is in the same boat: Yes there are totally people out there that love to network and are easily floating around the room meeting new people; however that is not the case with the majority of the crowd. I look for that other awkward person standing off to themselves and I beeline it over there. I figure no one wants to be standing alone. Most people are just waiting for the next person to come over and break the silence, so don’t be afraid to be the first person to strike up a conversation.
Meeting new people and expanding your community can be fun and exciting. I go with the attitude of how can I be of service to others and that way I don’t worry about whether I am meeting or impressing the right people. I know that I am meeting the people I am supposed to meet and the effort that I put into my career today will manifest greatness tomorrow.