Some people actually enjoy networking. To them, it’s a chance to meet new friends or connect to someone interesting. But for the majority of us, who are shy or simply feel nervous about talking to someone you don’t know, networking is hard. Especially if your shyness stands in the way when you’re networking for a job you want!
Even if you do know the person networking still can be hard, because you’re asking for something you need – help for yourself. Many of us find it far easier to find out what others need and then help them.
But this is the time to commit to helping yourself – and to believe with all your heart that you actually deserve the help you are asking for!
What my friend taught me about shy networking
Years ago when I was just starting out, I told a friend about my feelings of shyness when asking others for help with my job search. She turned to me with a smile and asked if I thought I was a good worker. “Well, sure,” I told her. “I do my best wherever I am.”
“Well why wouldn’t someone want to do an employer a favor by helping them find someone as good as you?” she asked.
“But it feels like begging,” I answered truthfully.
She told me begging was asking for something for nothing in return. “All you’re asking the person to do is open a door where both people will be happy.” Then she added, “Even with all the applicants nowadays, it’s hard to find really good people. Why wouldn’t someone want to help an employer find a great worker?” I had no answer. She was right.
And I never forgot what she told me. I wasn’t begging. I was simply helping an employer find a great asset – me!
Shy or not, you have to believe in yourself
It’s not even worth starting a job search if you don’t believe in yourself. Shyness is one thing, but low self-esteem can knock you out of the game. You can’t sell a product you don’t think much of, so why is it any different when you’re asking someone to spend good money to hire you? An employee is one of the most valuable assets any company can have. So when they make the decision to hire, they at least want to see that you believe in you!
But sometimes long job searches or bad experiences with prior employers can leave you feeling a bit low. So if you’re having trouble remembering how good you are, I want you to take a little trip through all the things you’ve ever done, and pick out at least three things you feel great about.
Maybe at work. Or helping a friend or family member. Or even something you did as a volunteer. Find some problem you solved or a time when you hung in to help someone or simply found a way to make someone feel better. Or think about something you’re great at that maybe no one knows.
Think you’ve got enough? Nah. Keep thinking of things. Let the list go on as long as you can, even if it feels like little things to you. They all count as strengths. And you can build on any or all of these strengths from this point forward. See? You do have a great product to sell – you!
So how does a shy person network for jobs?
No matter how much you intellectually understand about the topic, when you’re in a room with people you don’t know and your mouth gets dry and your eyes glaze over, how can you say anything, much less ask for help? Here’s something that works for me. In fact, it was another friend who clued me in to this approach …
Let’s say you’re at a networking event, or something that could lead to networking. A conference. An alumni gathering. A community organization. And art gallery opening. Even a block party. And you don’t know anyone! My normal reaction (apart from wanting to run home) is to go stand in a corner with a drink that I nurse slowly. From there, I watch for a while, just to get my bearings. And I look to see if anyone else standing alone looks friendly.
Remembering to breathe both in and out, I slowly approach and say hi. And I wait for them to say hi without rushing into any speech or heaven forbid an elevator pitch (your job search story synopsized into about 30 seconds). Just say hi and wait. Most of the time they are grateful someone said hi first. And from that point, they may begin talking, letting you off the hook. Or they too may just say hi and wait.
An easy way for shy people to network
The next part is what my friend taught me. Ask about them. Let them talk about themselves. Who they know at the party. What brought them there. The music. Artwork on the wall. What they do, if that feels comfortable. A scarf or belt they might be wearing that you like. Anything to just get started.
Don’t make it heavy and don’t make it about you yet. If you connect, there’s time to talk about your job search and anything else. If you don’t connect, you can’t force listening on someone; your words would be lost anyway. Just really listen (a major job search tool), and let the person relax into your discussion.
As that happens, you will most likely start to do the same. There’s nothing to accomplish or make happen. Just you being interested in another human being and taking it from there, responding naturally. You may never ask the person for anything and that’s ok; they aren’t the only person there. Worst case, just think of it as practicing. Or simply meeting a nice person.
But then again, if the opening is there and you keep it a friendly discussion where you show real interest in the person (as opposed to blatantly asking each person you speak with for a job and dismissing them if they can’t help you), you have now made it comfortable for both of you to discuss your quest for a job at whatever level the other person is open to – if not now maybe another time. And, you’ve made it more comfortable for yourself to go on to someone else, maybe made easier now that you “know” someone else there.
While I can’t guarantee this will make networking a lot easier for each one of you, I can tell you that it works for me and for other people whom I’ve coached. I hope the same is true for you!
Are you shy when you network? Feel free to share your own networking tips and stories!
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