Sweaty palms, shifty glances around the room, nervous laughter, and wait, was that some snickering directed at your back? No, you’re not at your 5th grade dance recital nor are you having a dream about standing in front of your class naked. You’re at a networking event, which may be worse than either scenario.
Networking is a necessary evil your career needs in order to thrive. Whether you’re at the start of your career or you’ve been around your industry for what feels like a hundred years, you’ll still need a helping hand. There will come a time in your career when you will need to tap your network for help. Whether it’s to get a new job or to contact a resource person, it pays to know a well-placed friend or two.
But not everyone is good at introducing themselves to someone point blank. Networking can be awkward and uncomfortable, especially at the start of your career when you don’t really know what you’re doing.
As the saying goes, it’s not really what you know, but who you know. Here’s how to network if you hate networking.
Start with the things you love
Networking events can be intimidating. It can feel like entering an arena with fellow gladiators who are looking to impress each other. But you don’t even need to go to these events to network. Networking can happen anywhere. It can happen at your Tita’s Sunday lunch with her friends or at your class reunion.
Tap into your hobbies and interests and network while doing something you enjoy. Meeting people while doing the things that you love can diffuse the tension of networking. You’ll be with people with similar interests so it will be easier to start a conversation. Whether it’s volunteering for a non-profit or mountain climbing, the rapport that you build with them will feel more genuine. No matter how diverse your interests are, you’re bound to meet someone in your industry.
Don’t dive in with a sales pitch
Nothing can make a networking interaction more awkward than by instantly going in for the kill.
Opening a conversation with “Hi, I’m Miguel and I’m looking for a job in app development” will turn people off. Remember, your goal is to build relationships. And how does one usually begin a relationship? By engaging a person on a personal level.
Whether you’re meeting your dad’s friend who’s in your industry or you’re at your college’s alumni gathering, it’s best to begin with a friendly conversation. Start slow and build a rapport over a neutral topic then eventually move on to a more professional discussion. If you’re at a networking event, don’t begin a conversation by shoving your business card at every person you meet. Start conversations about your industry or about the talk given at an event, if one was given.
This will also take the pressure off of feeling like you have to sell yourself. Starting a genuine conversation will help you focus on the people and not the credentials.
Walking into a room full of strangers and jumping into conversations isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. As Pinoys, our default arrival time at events tends to be rather late. When you arrive late at these events, people may have already settled into conversation groups and it can be hard to jump in and catch up with their topic.
Try arriving at networking events on time or a bit early. When the event isn’t in full swing yet, people are more laid back and are still actively looking for new faces. There aren’t any solid groups yet. It’s easier to start conversations solo than with a whole group of new faces.
Another way to make networking more bearable is to make a game out of it.
Set goals for yourself at every networking event you go to so you can set a personal challenge for yourself and at the same time, have a way to measure your progress. You can start with “I will have a meaningful conversation with three people in my industry” or “I will start a conversation with two people who aren’t in my age group.” It will help you focus and push you out of your comfort zone without you even noticing.
Find strength in numbers
If you feel uneasy dealing with a crowd of unfamiliar faces, then bring a friend or two along with you. Having a buddy around when you start conversations can make the experience more pleasant since you already have a good rapport going.
However, remember not to cling on to your friend for the entire event. They are there to complement your company and not to be your safety net. Try starting the event introducing yourself with your friend as a warm up. Then when you get the hang of it, split up with them and mingle on your own. You’re there to build new relationships with new people, and not to catch up with your friends.
Talk to wallflowers
If you want to start slow, you can begin by talking to fellow shy people. Everyone can be shy at some point. That quiet man in the corner may be a high-ranking executive at a company in your field. He’s just a tad shy at jumping into a conversation.
Like you, they’re not experienced at socializing with the other people at events. They are more open to being approached because they don’t know how to begin a conversation with other attendees. You won’t overwhelm each other because you’re both testing the waters with networking.
Networking can be an uncomfortable experience, but with enough practice you’ll get the hang of it. And if you start early in your career, you’ll soon be one of those networking experts you see at events. Got a networking tip that works well for you? Share it in the comments below!