7 Networking Tips for People Who Hate Networking
The dreaded “n” word: networking. I’ve never met anybody who said they did too much and had to cut back. Most of the time, I feel like I do too little and would prefer to cut back even more.
I meet people all the time that bemoan networking because they think of it as a huge burden. The key is to ask yourself how could it be less of a burden? What do you enjoy most about just meeting people (full stop)? Are the negative feelings an expectation or the actual experience?
It helps me to think about networking as a bunch of people who want to meet each other, but don’t want to look like they want to meet each other so they choose to congregate near each other. In other words, friends you haven’t met yet. Consider the wise words of a pickup artist:
In life, people tend to wait for good things to come to them. And by waiting, they miss out. Usually, what you wish for doesn’t fall in your lap; it falls somewhere nearby, and you have to recognize it, stand up, and put in the time and work it takes to get to it.
―Neil Strauss, The Game
I shied away from many a networking event when I was climbing the corporate ladder because I assumed it was a bunch of people looking for jobs that I didn’t have to offer. Don’t make the same mistake! The best networking happens when you have a job, precisely because you need to be there less.
Employed or not, I think we can agree we could all use more friends. This doesn’t mean that everyone you meet at a networking event has to be your friend. I used to try so hard to be charming to everyone, get a bunch of business cards, only to get home exhausted and realize I didn’t have a reason to contact half of them. I’m pretty sure those people could care less about me too. By not following these tips, I wasted their time and mine:
1. Accept Any Reticence
First and foremost: accept that it’s ok not to be good at networking. It’s ok not to have an ulterior motive to talk to someone. It’s ok not to ask for someone’s business card. It’s ok to go to an event with good intentions, then chicken out before walking in the front door. You are an adult which means you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. Own it. Your career is not going to take a nose dive. And the sun will still come up tomorrow.
2. Have A Goal
Now if you decide to get back in the saddle, having intention is a must. This could be as simple as telling yourself to meet three new people or simply walk through the front door. Try to make it as tangible as possible so you have something to celebrate. The overarching goal here is a sense of accomplishment even in little ways. And temporarily channel the rationale of most extraverts: what’s the worst that can happen?
3. Choose Wisely
In networking as in real estate: location, location, location. If you are in love with France and want to relocate there, get on the mailing list of your local French embassy. These organizations often hold wonderful free cultural events where you can meet like-minded people. And you are more likely to have a shared goal with these people which puts you both in better positions to support each other. The trick here is to be creative and indulge your personal interests from rock climbing to reading. A friend of mine decided to join a book club to meet new people to potentially date. She found a new group of friends and a relationship to boot.
Chances are you are more likely to be approached when you look friendly. I have cat videos on my phone on the ready to help make this happen when necessary.
5. Know Your Story
As much as it irks me, a natural question that strangers ask each other is: “What do you do?” Be prepared to say what you want to do, where you work, or what brought you to the event. Take a cue from working actors, they might have a day job as a waiter, but they always say they are actors. This is only friendly banter, not a pitch. Talk about yourself kindly and don’t limit yourself to your job. Then, quickly turn the tables.
6. Ask Questions
This is classic Dale Carnegie, people love talking about themselves. Contrary to common personal communication advice, avoid saying “I”. In this context, using “you” questions or statements focuses the conversation on the other person who you are trying to get to know.
7. Follow Up
There’s some statistic that says no real business is conducted until the fifth meeting. New relationships require commitment and care like a garden. Some may die and some may thrive. Your responsibility is to maintain the connection as best you can. This can mean sharing articles inspired by the conversations, grabbing the occasional coffee together, or requesting advice.
Finally, take pride that you are putting yourself out there. David did not conquer Goliath overnight. He fought lions and bears, which gave him the confidence to do what he needed to do in the end. You got this!