Post Contributed by Dr. Deb Elbaum
Do I Really Need to Go Networking?
We hear all the time that networking is critical when you are looking for your next job.
But who has the time and energy to network when writing a thesis?
And what if you’re an introvert and the thought of entering a room filled with strangers in business attire makes you quiver in your boots?
You might ask, do I really have to?
Meeting and talking with new people not only allows you to learn about companies and different roles and hear how other professionals have gotten to their positions, but is also the best way to expand your network of colleagues and friends.
The good news is that networking doesn’t have to be terrifying or all-consuming.
As a career and executive coach, I work with many graduate students and professionals who consider themselves introverts, helping them build self-confidence, practice networking skills, and structure the next stage of their career.
If imagining yourself networking is making you want to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over your head, keep reading.
We’ll deconstruct networking, re-frame your perspective, and offer a networking plan that works for you and your schedule.
Seven Steps to Turn Your Networking Fears into Opportunities for Advancing Your Career
Step One: Re-Frame the Process
Introverts tend to not be shy when it comes to their thoughts about networking. “I HATE it!” I often hear.
Before our stress (cortisol) levels rise too high, let’s dissect what networking is.
It’s about meeting a new person, beginning a conversation, sharing an idea or piece of information about you, and asking questions to learn something about them.
Networking can take many forms; it is not only going to events and gatherings, but also includes any time you have a focused conversation with someone.
This might be a one-on-one scheduled meeting, an impromptu conversation with a stranger (like in line at Starbucks), or a conversation on-line (such as in a LinkedIn group).
Instead of focusing on what you hate about networking, think about what you like about meeting new people.
Even my introverted clients tell me that there are parts of relationship building they enjoy — maybe it’s exchanging thoughts about a shared topic of interest, or sitting down to a one-on-one meeting.
Identify the part of networking that you enjoy and then use your mental “find and replace” function.
Ban the word “networking” from your vocabulary and, instead, re-frame and use language that reassures you.
Going forward, tell your friends that you are going to “exchange some ideas” or have a “one-on-one meeting with a new colleague.”
You’d be surprised at how much a re-frame helps make the activity of building relationships more achievable and enjoyable.
Step 2: Do it YOUR way
When I was younger, I used to think that there was a single “right” way to do life.
How naive I was!
Some career journeys seem straightforward, while others seem to involve many twists and turns.
Some entrepreneurs market their services through blogs and books, and others through speaking engagements.
Similarly, there is no one right way to network.
Your colleague might love going to happy hour events and making small talk, and you might prefer conversations in quieter settings.
As long as you are doing something to build your network, it’s all good.
Give yourself permission to meet people and have conversations in the way and at the pace that is fun (or at least palatable) for you.
For example, if you do your best thinking when you connect with nature, ask the person you are meeting to go for a networking nature walk instead of meeting for coffee.
If you like sharing ideas but are short on time, consider joining a relevant LinkedIn group to network on-line.
You can become known as the curator of the most up-to-date information.
While you are giving yourself permission to network in your own way, try to remove the word “should” from your vocabulary when it comes to networking.
Rather than feeling like you should go to an event, think about how to do it in the way that works for you.
Step Three: Find a Buddy
Most chores are more fun when done with a friend, and networking is no exception.
Mentally run through your list of friends, and think of one or two who you feel comfortable with and who might be willing to lend moral support.
Ask them to attend a networking event with you.
The buddy system helps in two ways: first, you will almost definitely have a better time.
You’ll have someone to chat with during the event and someone to compare notes with afterward.
Just make sure you don’t spend all of your time at the event with your buddy.
Second, having a buddy is a great way to ensure accountability.
Most of us are more likely to do what we have planned to do when other people (like a boss or family member) are holding us accountable.
Knowing that you promised another person that you would go to a networking event will make you much more likely to follow through and not cancel at the last minute.
Step Four: Practice Your “Pitch”
It’s a way to share what’s most exciting about you or your work in a few words to grab someone’s interest, so that he or she wants to continue the conversation and hear more.
Here’s what an elevator pitch should not be: bragging, using jargon that the listener doesn’t understand, or listing your entire resume.
In your pitch, you can share an interesting tidbit or two about your work or professional interests, and then follow up with a question (like, “What brings you here?” or “I’d love to hear about your research”) to keep the conversation flowing.
Having a personal introduction is critical for all the networking you do, whether big networking events or one-on-one meetings.
You need to have an answer to questions like, “Tell me about yourself,” or “What do you do?”
If you are like some of my clients, and at a complete loss for how to answer these questions, here is a helpful starting template.
- I work with:
- To do:
- So that:
Please do not memorize your introduction.
It should sound conversational rather than robotic.
I encourage my clients to practice different versions of their pitch, by saying them out loud in front of their mirror or to another person.
Here’s how to put your pitch into action: the next time you are at a networking event and making your way around the room, try out different versions.
You’ll see instantly which introductions invite more conversation and which cause a listener’s eyes to wander.
Give yourself permission to have fun!
For example, sometimes I introduce myself as “a coach who helps people transform self-doubt into confidence.”
Other times, I might say something like, “I am a life purpose guru, who helps leaders and their organizations lead from purpose” or “I work with professionals who know that they have greater things in store for them.”
Get the idea?
There are always different ways to describe what you do — the key is to believe what you are saying, and speak with confidence in yourself and your abilities.
Step Five: Set Your Goals
When clients say they can’t network, I ask them to identify exactly which pieces feel the hardest:
Is it getting dressed up? Saying hello to someone? Asking a question?
You can use this way of dissecting networking to identify and achieve small goals.
Before each networking conversation or event, take a few minutes and consider the steps involved and identify the specific goals you want to achieve.
What would make you feel proud?
Some examples of “baby step” goals might include saying hello to that one person you’ve been dying to meet; or exchanging business cards with someone who seems really interesting; or learning new information about a company you just heard about.
When we set an intention, we are more likely to achieve it.
Choose a few small goals that you can master, so that you will feel accomplished and successful upon leaving.
Step Six: Have An Exit Strategy
We’ve all been in this situation before: we are at an event, having just met someone new, and now we are ready to move on.
Maybe we want to meet other people, or we just need a break from being “on.”
When I teach networking, there is always one student who asks if it’s OK to end a conversation.
Yes, it is completely fine to end a conversation at a networking event.
After all, most people expect to make at least a few connections at these gatherings.
You don’t need to spend the entire time with one person (unless, of course, you’d like to).
When you are ready to end your conversation, make a point to smile and politely thank the person for his or her time.
Be appreciative of his or her interest in you and feel free to mention one thing you appreciated/learned in your conversation.
Then, depending on the situation, try one of the following closers:
- Can I have your card and contact you to talk further?
- Can I introduce you to….”
- I need to grab some food or something to drink.
- I need to step out and make a phone call.
- There is someone I need to speak with.
Above all, be respectful and polite, and remember that a genuine smile goes a long way.
Step Seven: Follow Up and Celebrate!
You’ve invested time to meet people — going forward, make sure to nurture these new relationships.
Send an email or pick up the phone every few months and invite your new friend for coffee.
That way, you stay top of mind when he or she hears of a possible job opportunity.
Reaching out to folks and not hearing back?
Don’t worry and don’t take it personally if you don’t hear back. Just appreciate the Yeses.
Lastly, be sure to celebrate!
I believe that success builds upon success.
When we are trying something new and brave and out of our comfort zone — which networking can be for some of us — we need to be kind to ourselves and recognize and celebrate our successes.
Did you call someone new? Celebrate!
Did you deliver your elevator pitch with energy and enthusiasm? Pat yourself on the back.
Did you go to an event where you knew no one? Give yourself lots of love afterward.
What does celebrating look like, you wonder? I’ll let you decide.
Depending on your budget and circumstances, you might go out to dinner, spend time with family and friends, or curl up on the couch and watch your favorite show.
Or you could go to the greeting card section of a store and choose the one you’d give yourself, if you were to buy one.
As you celebrate, reflect on the personal qualities you are most proud of — like your persistence, courage, or friendliness.
Take a few moments and let the pride soak in.
Remind yourself of what you are capable of.
Remember that the more you practice, the more you will develop effective networking and communication skills.
And like other skills, you can improve over time with attention and intention.
Keep practicing — in your way and using your strengths.
Be sure to keep track of who you talk to, what you discussed, and what the follow-up steps will be.
Over time, you’ll be amazed at your growing collection of networking success. Even as an introvert.
About Dr. Deb Elbaum
Deb Elbaum, MD, CNTC, PCC is a neuroscience and transformational coach, author, and speaker who works with professionals during times in their lives when they feel stuck. She brings enthusiasm and a wide-ranging toolkit that incorporates the best of neuroscience and intuitive coaching approaches to help clients break through mental blocks, spark new connections, think effectively, and take action. Her clients make lasting changes with new-found clarity and confidence — changes that align with their values, strengths, and purpose.
The author of the chapter “Making Moments Count” in Coaching for Powerful Change (2016), her undergraduate and graduate degrees are from Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Her coaching certifications are from the Coaches Training Institute, BeAbove Leadership, and the International Coach Federation.
Contact Deb at firstname.lastname@example.org or through her website: www.debelbaum.com.
This post is a combination of advice given in Advice from a Career Coach: Dealing with Networking as an Introvert and How to Make Professional Networking Events Successful
When it comes to networking what is your #1 challenge? Please share in the comments below so you can get support