When looking for a job you’re constantly told “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”, or “you need to get out there and market yourself.” It’s a constant reminder that you’re not doing enough to tap into potential job opportunities and develop new relationships.
Studies show that only 20 percent of jobs are advertised, which means that 80 percent of jobs are filled through internal promotions, contacts from existing staff, and word of mouth. Basically - networking! So while it may seem like trawling online job ads for vacancies is your best option, your time is actually better spent face-to-face, where you are building deeper relationships with people that might just open up new opportunities for you.
If you’re like me, just the phrase ‘networking event’ gets your palms sweating and your heart pounding, as you imagine yourself standing alone in the corner while everyone else is throwing their heads back in laughter and talking up a storm. No one wants to be that person, alone and looking awkward, wandering aimlessly with drink and spring roll in hand. And this is the dilemma – how do you push yourself out of that cosy comfort zone and actually speak to strangers?!
So here are my tips for successful networking (even if you’re an introvert):
1. Be there
You won’t meet new people unless you’re actually there and present at the event. It’s easy to tell yourself ‘it doesn’t matter if I don’t show’ or ‘I’ll slip away after the formal part is over’, but you’re not going to meet new people watching Netflix, and you could be missing out on meeting someone who could change your life (or at least tell you something new and interesting.) The more events you go to, the more people you speak to and the more your confidence grows.
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It helps to set yourself a goal at the start of the event. For example, aim to speak to 3 new people before you leave, or set a timer on your phone to stay for at least 30 minutes before slipping away. You’ll be surprised how this can turn what feels like a chore into an achievable way of making sure you stay the distance.
If the thought of attending an event on your own is too daunting, ask a friend, colleague or even a family member to join you. Having a networking buddy will give you confidence to talk to other people, especially when you know you have your buddy to fall back on if conversation dries up.
2. Position yourself
It’s important to position yourself where you can’t get sidelined or ignored. Try to stick to smaller groups or introduce yourself to someone who is alone and looking as awkward as you feel. Put your phone away and don’t be tempted to check it. No one is going to say hello to someone whose face is buried in their phone. A good tactic is to stand near the drinks table. There will always be someone grabbing a drink or canape and turning back to the group wondering, like you, who they can speak to next. It sounds simple, but just go up and say “Hello, how are you?” That person will be so grateful that you did.
3. It’s not a sales pitch
This was the biggest revelation for me. A lot of us, introverts in particular, are not natural salespeople, and we think that networking is all about selling yourself. But that’s not true. Networking is about building relationships, not ‘making the sale.’ And a critical part of building any relationship is showing sincere interest in the other party.
When you strike up a conversation, you don’t need to launch into an awkward pitch about yourself, trying to prove that you’re worthy of being there. Ask the person why they came to the event. Ask how they got into their line of work or study and what they like about it (or don’t like). If you feel comfortable, ask about their families or personal lives. Imagine you’re meeting someone at a friend’s BBQ. Networking is no different. Once you’ve formed this initial relationship, it will be much easier for you to talk about yourself and your ideas. They will be interested in you because you were interested in them.
4. Follow up
When you’ve had a good conversation, take note of that person’s name tag and ask if they’d be happy to connect on LinkedIn. Don’t send the standard invitation to connect - flag how you met to jog their memory. For example, “I was the one who was jealous of your upcoming Bali holiday” or “We had a laugh about our shared gaming habit.” Thank them for sharing their story with you. If you think there is a clear link with where you are headed, be bold and ask for what you want. For example, “Is there anyone you can recommend I contact about working at your company?” or “Can you suggest any groups I should join to find out more about your field?” Some connections may not lead anywhere, but others may result in job opportunities, increased knowledge of your field, or the best result of all – a new friendship.
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I’m not as scared of networking as I used to be because it’s become a regular part of my job. I’m networking with students, employers and academics all the time. I’m lucky to be in a job where networking helps me to be more helpful to students in their career journeys. So my advice to you is to be bold, be brave, and just say ‘hello’!
Candy Jenkins is a talent and leadership development professional with over 15 years’ experience. She has worked for global organisations in both London and Sydney, in banking, IT, telco, and FMCG. As the Postgraduate Career Coach at UTS, she is passionate about helping students understand their unique value proposition, land their dream job, and achieve career success.
Featured image courtesy of Waitron.