Networking for the Slightly Shy, the Reserved and the Downright Introverted

The other night I went to a seminar at Fordham entitled “Networking for the Slightly Shy, the Reserved and the Downright Introverted.” I’m not shy, but I can be a little reserved and introverted. It’s really because I just don’t like people. (In case you’re wondering, I hate you too.) Seriously, I’m just comfortable by myself and don’t much like networking events. I don’t know the root cause (fear of rejection, maybe). I signed up this event because, when I’m unemployed, I try to do anything that can possibly help.

Sure enough, it was very helpful, and I’m glad I went. The presenter was a career coach named Mary Anne Walsh, and she reminded me of the lady who was selling us her apartment until I was laid off and our mortgage was rejected. (I guess that’s a story for another post.) She started with why we network:

  • gain confidence
  • learn new skills
  • increase self-esteem
  • increase visibility
  • get a new job (HELLO!)
  • get promoted (I should be so lucky)
  • acquire new business
  • solve problems more quickly

Then she moved into the art of networking and the fears associated with it. In a quick exercise designed to make us meet someone new, we had to discuss our main fear with someone in else. As it happened, the person I turned to was someone I already knew but hadn’t previously recognized. So much for that exercise.

She continued on to explain that we should treat networking like we would a job, particularly if we didn’t enjoy it. So I took out my computer and immediately went to ESPN.com (BAA-zing! Thank you, be sure to try the veal). Seriously, she suggested we outline a strategy for meeting people. The key point for me was to have a plan and goals going in (ex. meet 5 people, setup 3 meetings, get 10 business cards). She gave tips on how to keep conversations moving and how to move on to other conversations after 5 minutes (her suggested length).

I don’t want to give away too much of the stuff she presented. After all this is her business, and people pay her for this. But one other point was particularly relevant for me. Have something to offer people whom you’re meeting. If the conversation and any subsequent relationship isn’t a give and take, you won’t get very far.

This point resonated with me because someone recently called me out on this very thing. This contact made the point that he only hears from me when I look for a job and send out my resume en masse. Further, if I were to offer help when I’m gainfully employed, I’d never be in the position I always find myself in – unemployed and in need of help. Jobs would come to me. Initially I was a little angry and indignant about it. I do try to help people in my network, and I pride myself on that. But some people never seem to need help. And some I just don’t know that well; that’s the nature of networks. Anyway, his point was spot-on, at least as it applied to him (and likely many more people). And I realized this once I got over myself and thought about it a little.

Anyway, back to the point of this post. Networking needs to be a key component of any job search, active or passive, whether you’re employed on not employed. If you hate it as much as I do, then it’s all the more important because you probably avoid it. And if you treat it is as its own process and and important part of the larger process of finding a job, you can rationalize yourself into doing it.

And if you have the wherewithal, it’s probably worth hiring a job coach. There are many things we’re probably doing wrong, and there are people who can help. Mary Anne is one of them.

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