Freaked Out by Networking? Join the Club

bag_people_networkingI have a friend named Mark. He’s a real entertainer, always at the center of any gathering.  Mark loves meeting new people.  Male, female, young, old—he doesn’t care. He’ll talk to anyone. He sometimes goes out on Friday or Saturday nights by himself, just for the thrill of it. When Mark encounters a room full of unfamiliar faces, you can just see him get all twitchy with excitement.

You probably know someone like Mark. (These people tend to have a lot of friends!) But let’s be honest: Most of us feel downright uncomfortable when we think about introducing ourselves to a bunch of strangers. Approach someone out of the blue? With no introduction? Without any friends for support? Nooooooo thanks.

In a structured college environment, it’s relatively easy to approach people for help. After all, a big part of the jobs of professors, advisors, counselors, and financial aid officers is helping students. But what happens when you need to start looking for internships or, especially, full-time jobs? You’ll need to seek help beyond the campus community—and that’s when things get complicated.

Networking is the art of initiating and maintaining relationships for the purpose of exchanging contacts, tips about available positions, and professional advice or opportunities. Nowadays that can involve online outreach through LinkedIn and resources like the TU Career Mentor Database.  Networking also involves getting in touch with everyone you already know. Relatives, family friends, and community acquaintances are all great sources of information about jobs.

Sooner or later, though, you’ll need to start networking within your professional community—strangers who work in your field of choice. And the best, most meaningful connections come from face-to-face meetings. As a student, you have many opportunities to meet local professionals. Some departments and student groups host alumni panels, and the Career Center coordinates all sorts of employer visits to campus, including Employer Mock Interviews on October 11 and the Fall Career & Internship Fair on October 24. (Keep an eye on our calendar of events.)

But what if you hate talking to strangers? How do you even begin to feel comfortable in a networking situation?

1. Figure out what you want in advance. Better still, practice concisely describing what you want. A job? What kind of job, specifically? What kind of employer do you envision yourself working for? Be ready to talk about it!

2. Know how to describe yourself. What interesting things have you done, or characteristics do you have? How might they relate, even loosely, to the career you’re looking for? (Contact the Career Center if you need help.)

 3. Don’t underestimate the obvious. “Smile, shake hands firmly, look ’em in the eye.” That is your mantra.

4. Start small. At your very first networking event, maybe you don’t try to win over everyone in the room. Maybe instead you chat with two or three people, then call it a day.

5. Ask lots of questions. It’s always easiest if the other person does most of the talking, am I right? Additionally, most people love talking about themselves and their career. They’ll be flattered that you seem so interested.

6. Instantly forgive yourself for mistakes. Did you stumble over your words or accidentally interrupt someone? Laugh it off, or just ignore it. No one cares if you’re a master networker. They want to see a good attitude and a little bit of personality.

7. End conversations gracefully. When you sense that the chatter is winding down and it’s time to move on, it’s fine to reach out for another handshake, make eye contact, and say warmly, “I’m so glad we had the chance to meet. Enjoy the rest of the afternoon!”

8. Embrace the awkwardness. Yes, some pauses will linger just a bit too long. Yes, your face will hurt from smiling too much. Don’t worry about it. Almost everyone else is quite literally feeling the same way you are—some just have more practice at hiding it.

Let’s say you take a chance and attend a networking event. Will you be nervous? Probably. Will it be worth it? Almost definitely—if only to experience those sweaty palms, those awkward pauses, and that feeling of relief when you realize this networking thing isn’t all that bad.

Kacie Glenn, Career Center

(October is Career Month! Check out our many cool upcoming events, including the fair. Attend three events to automatically receive a free, faux-leather business portfolio debossed with the TU logo.)

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