By Stephanie Anderson Witmer; Additional reporting: Melissa Shedden and Kirsty Carpenter
Smart networking moves that’ll wipe that fake smile right off your face
You want to kill it in your career, but you’d rather do overtime until your eyes cross than hit up another work event. Networking makes some of us feel dirty – actually physically unclean, a recent study shows – but if you’re itching for a promo, mingling is a must. In fact, some experts say around 80 percent of positions aren’t even posted – they’re filled by personal referral. Reassuring intel for you: women tend to be better than men at creating the authentic bonds key to successful networking, says Devora Zack, author of Networking for People Who Hate Networking: A Field Guide for Introverts, the Overwhelmed, and the Underconnected. To grease your social wheels even more, we’ve zeroed in on the top five reasons networking can feel gross and asked pros for their tips on how to overcome the ick factor.
The whole thing feels so forced
Much like speed dating, so-called “networking events” don’t reflect how we naturally interact best – in a low-pressure situation with peeps we’re already acquainted with. That’s why you might push yourself to find common ground in ways that feel inauthentic (jargon-speak, laughing at bad jokes) and not get very far.
Get over it!
“The reality is that people do business with those they know and trust,” says Chantelle Martins, Joburg head of the Fine Women Business Network. “All that’s expected of you is to be your authentic self. It allows you to focus on building organic relationships with like-minded people who you can add value to.” To deepen your connections organically, invite a few work buds to grab drinks and ask each to bring an industry “plus one”. You’ll strengthen your bond with your colleagues (which translates into more on-the-job support), while meeting new people, says Derek Coburn, author of Networking Is Not Working: Stop Collecting Business Cards and Start Making Meaningful Connections.
Plastering on a big grin drains you
Having to talk to strangers + a crowded conference room full of them = a shy person’s nightmare.
Get over it!
Work with – not against – your personality and strengths, says Dr Alice Boyes, author of The Anxiety Toolkit: Strategies for managing your anxiety so you can get on with your life. If you’re headed to an event, make a short list of who you want to meet and why and have your intro prepped. “Try ‘Hi, I’m [insert your name] I wanted to congratulate you on [insert impressive thing here],’” she suggests. Next, break down your goals into bite-sized pieces: circulate for 20 minutes instead of an hour and introduce yourself to three people, not 15. It’s okay to take solo breaks in a quiet spot when you need a second to recharge. Option two: join groups or activities and go to events that excite you, says Martins. “Opportunity is everywhere and, this way, you’re surrounded by people where the ice has already been broken – whether by way of a common bond of burning kilojoules at yoga, or by swapping recipes at a dinner club. The point is to nurture authentic connections wherefrom business will grow naturally.”
You get tongue tied talking to bigwigs
Chatting up senior types who may offer you a job one day is smart, but nerves can make you clam up or, worse, word vomit.
Get over it!
If you’re attending an event and know that a VIP you want to impress will be there, prep a 30-second intro that includes your name, what you do and what you enjoy about it. Then shift the focus to them. “Have something specific to say about her work,” says Zack. Don’t ask to “pick her brain” (everyone does that); mention her column in the company newsletter, for example. Google-stalk in advance if you need to gather info. Keep the convo under five minutes, then gracefully make an exit: “This was a pleasure – I’m sure you have a million other people to chat with.”
It’s awkward talking about how fab you are
Most of us were trained early on not to boast. It’s selfish, right?
Get over it!
You know you’re fabulous and your new connection will too (in good time). “In the meantime, remember that the most interesting people to speak to are the ones that want to know about you,” says Martins. Plus, when you listen to people and make them feel like you’re interested in them, it ultimately reflects well on you.
Then, make sure you serve first, advises Martins. Focus on how you can best add value to your new connection (rather than what’s in it for you). It could be something as simple as a recommendation of a fab new restaurant you know they’d love. Your new connection will most likely be so grateful they’ll be more than happy to return the favour. “My driving force is ‘what’s the point of living if we can’t help each other live extraordinary lives?’” I take that mission with me into networking events and focus on learning more about my new connection and how I can best add value to them,” says Martins.
It feels like a waste of time
Your hands are covered in paper cuts from passing out business cards. What’ve you received in return? Nada.
Get over it!
Odds are, you’re overdoing it – too many events, too many contacts – which can prevent you from following up in a meaningful way, says Boyes. The next time you meet someone you want to keep tabs on, connect on LinkedIn or send a brief email. “You might not be awesome at approaching people but you can be a rock star at following up. Send an email to say how much you enjoyed meeting someone, something specific they said that you found helpful and remind them of your offer to help with something,” she says. No response? Wait two weeks and then send a second email. If you hear crickets after that, cut your losses and move on. “But don’t overcommit, and don’t feel guilty about not staying in touch with everyone you meet,” says Martins.
The Social Networks
More than a third of all employers peruse social sites during the hiring process. Make sure they like what they see.
Post a profesh-looking photo and clearly state your current role. Highlight skills that pertain to your career goals.
Follow leaders in your field and retweet their content (keep it to once a day or less, otherwise it can come off as creepy).
Check your settings so potential employers can’t see your page and be swayed by any opinions they don’t share.