Alright, so we all know how important networking is. There’s a hidden job market out there and a majority of jobs are filled through connections. Someone knew someone on the inside and could catch wind of the opportunity before it was public, receive tips on what the company was specifically looking for, or was recommended by their contact. Knowing people in your industry is important and vital to a successful career. Networking isn’t always the most comfortable and pleasant experience, but here are some tips to combat some of the awkwardness you may be feeling.
However important networking may be it doesn’t mean it’s always been my favorite and most fun experience to partake in. Sometimes networking events can be painfully awkward. Personally, I used to dread networking events because of the pressure to make a good impression. It all just seemed so fake. We all know why we’re here, and it’s to network. It’s not to make real life friends; it’s to make contacts in the industry so that we can advance our careers and use each other if needed in the future.
It took me a while to get out of this mindset I was stuck in, but I realized that networking wasn’t the problem, my attitude was.
Networking doesn’t have to be, and really should never be fake.
Why does a networking event have to end in you simply creating contacts to “use” in your industry? That’s not what networking should be about. Networking should be about creating RELATIONSHIPS with people in your industry, which may or may not be useful in the future. But going into a networking event focusing on finding useful contacts instead of making friends doesn’t always work out too well. People can tell that when you’re being fake, and they’ll either be fake back or be completely disinterested in helping you. Basically if you’ve gotten to this point, you’ve shot yourself in the foot.
Networking should be about building relationships. But what if you’re too nervous to try and make friends with other professionals? Well, in these cases you should treat networking like the first day of kindergarten.
Now I know you’re thinking, “What in the world does that mean?”
Give me a chance to explain.
On my first day of kindergarten, I was very nervous about making friends. I didn’t want to go to school at all. My dad took me aside and shared with me his secret to success. He told me that all I had to do was go up to a kid and ask them if they wanted to play with me. If so, cool beans. If not, then to say okay, it was nice meeting you, and move on to the next kid.
If networking is really about creating relationships and not just contacts, then we should all take this approach to networking. Walk up to someone, introduce yourself and ask questions; if it clicks it clicks. If not, then move on to the next person. Just like in real life friendships, networks of contacts should never feel forced. If it’s meant to happen, it will happen naturally.
Basically, the trick to networking is to relax and be yourself. Otherwise, you’re going to find the whole process awkward and so will anyone you interact with. It’s just like kindergarten. Be genuine and ask the other kids if they want to play with you, and if so then you’ve made a new friend.