When You Hate Networking
5 Tips to Make it a Little Bit Easier
by Helen Godfrey, MA, NCC, BCC, LPC
Volunteer at the event so you establish a relationship from the start. Maybe work at the check-in desk or at the door. When you volunteer, most places will give you the opportunity to enjoy the event as well. It can be easier to approach others when you have a role at the event.
2. Be helpful
Offer to be helpful.
o Are you at a career fair? Is the employer struggling with his/her display? Offer to help.
o Did you wait in line for 15 minutes to see the employer? Is there a huge line behind you? After you speak to the employer ask if he/she needs something to drink. Be sure to give him/her a sealed drink. You aren’t crazy but some people are so you want the employer to know that the drink is safe and sanitary.
3. Attend professional organizations’ events
Attend events that have easy conversation starters built in. Every industry has a professional organization and most professions offer or, oftentimes, require continuing education. This is a great place to network because there is a common goal in attending the event and easy questions built in. For example, “What made you choose this particular event?”, “Is this a group that you attend regularly?” and from there, you can connect to people who are already in the field.
4. Shoes vs. baby giraffes and bone crushing handshakes
One of my colleagues compares people wearing uncomfortable high heels to baby giraffes. Now that’s a visual! It’s probably not a look that you are trying to achieve, regardless of the event. I’ve actually had employers tell me they wouldn’t hire someone who didn’t have enough sense to wear practical shoes. As you can see, you are being evaluated on many levels. Walking in like a baby giraffe is not a wonderful first impression unless you are, of course, a baby giraffe then, "Go for it little one!"
So how do you get around being comfortable and being fashionable at the same time? Here are a couple of tips: 1. Try wearing said shoes before said event 2. Bring a professional bag/briefcase with an extra pair of shoes. Wear the comfortable shoes from the parking lot until you are almost at the event. Then do what I call the “Wonder Woman” shoe change. Make sure both pairs of shoes are easy to slip on and off to lessen the amount of potentially awkward time changing shoes or find a restroom.
Men. A problem that comes up a lot especially for you is the handshake. No, you don't want to be a bone crusher but yes, you do want a somewhat firm handshake. When I was running the engineering career center at one of my previous jobs, I coached my male students on the art of the handshake. Sometimes I felt as though I was almost holding my students' hands up because their handshakes were so weak. I was curious about that and I asked them the reason their handshakes weren't firm. I loved the reason: "I didn't want to hurt you." I greatly appreciated the noble intention behind the floppy handshakes and I taught them a happy medium. So yes gentlemen, you are stronger than us and your awareness of that is extremely thoughtful. With that in mind, if you are shaking a woman's hand please find that happy medium that leaves a great first impression and doesn't have her running for an ice pack.
5. Have fun
So you might not think networking is fun but you do other things that are fun, don’t you? Great! Why? Because every social interaction is networking and an interview. Yes, every social interaction is networking. So, while you may have an inclination to just attend professional events, and that is a great way to target the right audience, according to Facebook, we are connected to everyone in the world through 3 people. That’s right. Let’s picture that. Someone you know, knows someone who knows, let’s say, Beyonce or Drake. Pretty cool, huh? So, when it comes to networking, don’t forget to have fun. Who wouldn’t want to hire a bright shiny, happy person who loves…hiking or scrapbooking or traveling or….? When you are having fun, you are showing your best self.
People hire people who, not only have the skills but whom they like. In consulting they call it the “airport test.” Basically, if we were stranded in an airport for an infinite amount of time…would I want to hang out with you? That is a pretty serious test. What I keep hearing from employers is: We can teach people the technical skills needed to do the job but if the potential applicant can’t get along well with others…that is much more difficult to teach.
To go back to my example about helping an employer out…what does that say about you? Here you are, no guarantee of a job, heck, you might not even want to work for the company but you are helping someone. As an employer observing this says: "Here is someone who goes above and beyond the call of duty. Here is someone who doesn’t say, “That’s not my job” but helps where he/she sees that help is needed. Here is someone who has initiative. I didn’t even have to ask! Hummm….I might not need his/her particular skill set but I might know someone who does." Even if nothing comes from this, helping someone can feel good and you never know who is watching.
So go out. Be bold and network, in comfortable shoes of course.