[Cue screams and general sounds of anarchy]
If you have been through a job search before, chances are that you have received the well intentioned, but often vague and unhelpful advice, to “just network.” This isn’t necessarily bad advice as, according to LinkedIn, 85% of jobs today are found through networking. My only issue with this piece of advice is that people say that phrase without following it up with helpful tips and tricks on how to actually get out there and network. Moreover, the lively social butterflies who probably gave you that advice never think about how networking can differ for people who (A) struggle to go up to others and start conversations and (B) have no idea how to relax once the conversation gets started.
Talking too fast. Laughing too loud. Shuffling your feet. Twirling your hair. Smoothing the imaginary piece of lint off your pants every five seconds while your heart beats faster and faster. These are all tale tell signs of the awkward queer in action… and I know because I’ve been there, sweaty palms and all (speaking of which, hand sanitizer is a major networking tool: invest in it folks).
If you cringed when you saw the word “networking” at the start of this article, but you’re curious to hear some quick and easy tips to get started, then keep reading!
1. Get acquainted with your awk
When I am awkward and unchecked, I talk fast. I freak out if there is even a moment of silence and I fill every empty space with words and more words… and it’s a whole mess.
Luckily, I am aware of it. So, when I know I’m feeling nervous (stress in my shoulders, heart being fast), I take a deep breath and remind myself to slow down. If I’m feeling really brave, I ask for a moment “to collect my thoughts”, yes — even during interviews.
Self awareness is key. And the reality is that for many of us, awkward tendencies only start to happen when we are feeling nervous, so start there. What are the psychological and physiological signs of nervousness or anxiety for you? When you are feeling awkward, what are some of the things you’re thinking and feeling? Feel free to ask these questions alone, with a trusted loved one, or with a therapist. Asking yourself these questions will help you to, at least, be aware of how your awkward manifests.
2. Start your networking journey with your friends & family
All the pros know that the secret to networking is starting with the people you already know. Your close friends and family, your old professors, your current supervisors, and everyone else you see on a daily basis, have connections that you can’t even imagine. Send a personal message to everyone in your network. Let them know that you’re currently job searching and ask for any connections they may have in industries or companies you’re interested in.
PS: When you let people know you’re navigating a job search, many of them will be more than happy to offer words of affirmation, advice, and other things that can help. Lean on your network! They are here for moments like this.
3. Get online
Thank the gods we live in the Internet Age. There are so many benefits to networking online (reaching people all over the world, getting information about people before reaching out to say hello, finding people with common interests and passions quickly, etc.). But, one of the greatest benefits of online networking is that us awkward folks can talk to people without being hyper conscious of how they are viewing our mannerisms and actions.
Utilize social media platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and others to interact with people who are interesting to you. Like a status update or introduce yourself to someone new by sharing an interesting article or blog post. Lead with passion and curiosity with people and I guarantee that (most) will want to keep connecting with you!
4. When it comes to networking events & conferences, be intentional with where you spend your energy
Create goals for yourself. Who are the kinds of people you want to connect with? How many business cards do you want to leave with? What is doable for you? ( Pro tip: 3 meaningful connections is more impressive than 10 shallow conversations where you and the other person won’t remember each other the next day).
Reward yourself each time you make progress. If you just had a really awesome conversation with someone and received a business card, leave the room for a bit, scroll through Instagram, and recharge.
Attend the event with a friend or a group of friends who can act as anchors for you when you start to lose energy or when you are feeling especially nervous. If you have friends who are great at connecting with others, this is when they come in clutch.
Take frequent breaks to check in with yourself throughout the event. Do you feel like you are reaching your goals? Which connections are you most excited about? What will you do to rest and recharge after the event has finished?
As always, bring hand sanitizer!
5. Be messy & proud
Next time you’re feeling awkward when you’re connecting with someone new, try this: “Honestly, I’m feeling a little awkward right now because I am new to networking. However, I am really enjoying talking to you and learning more about what you do.” Slam dunk.
The bravest thing we can do when it comes to networking, and life, is to be our most authentic self even when we’re not at our best. The right connections will stick around.
You don’t have to be the one at the center of the room taking business cards, remembering names, shaking hands, and kissing babies (and let’s be honest: most of us hate that guy). Find your own brand of networking by being strategic and authentic, remember that you’re dope regardless, and have fun! You never know what a new connection will bring your way.