Fear of networking debilitates the best of us.
For many of us, including those who are even a little shy and those who suffer imposter syndrome (which disproportionately affects high achievers, by the way), networking is a dreaded necessity.
Personally, I hate walking into a room full of people I don’t know, or reaching out to people who don’t know me, to ask them for their help.
But, I don’t have any problem speaking with someone at a party when a good friend introduces me. If I value my friend, and my friend values this other person, the odds are good that we’ll hit it off.
Likewise, I don’t like asking people I’m barely acquainted with for help. But I don’t mind asking them questions about themselves, what they like to do, what they enjoy, and then identify common interests and weave my own story into the conversation in an exchange of ideas and information.
Herein lies the problem for most people: they perceive networking as approaching random people to ask for help.
Shifting your mentality to one of being at a party, welcoming a new friend-of-a-friend into your circle of acquaintance, and getting to know them through curiosity can change the networking game entirely.
Here are my top tips for networking with this new mindset:
1. Lean on the people you already known and trust
Forget approaching strangers if that inhibits you.
Instead, opt for reaching out to your closest tribe and asking for introductions to people they know well, within your targeted industry, your target position or functional area, or within a targeted list of companies you’d like to work for (in any functional area). Tell them you are trying to expand and grow your professional network — NOT have their contacts hook you up with a job.
2. Approach new connections with minimal self-interest
When you land a warm introduction via a close friend, think of this new acquaintance as a potential new friend, someone you’d like to learn about to see if you share common interests.
Remove from your head the idea that this person can get you a job. That mentality will not help you. Nobody likes to be approached by strangers who want favors.
Instead, tell them you’d love to chat briefly and learn more about what they do and what it’s like to work at their company, if they are open to it. Give them an out, by telling them that if they prefer, you could ask them a couple of questions via email.
3. Bring curiosity, not demands, to the conversation
Don’t fret about the meeting, thinking you’ll need to prove something about yourself.
Instead, bring a genuinely curious mindset. You are not out to impress or demand favors, rather you are a learner on the path to discovering more about your target companies and target position. Your immediate goal is not to land a job.
Bring questions to better understand what the company culture is like, what it’s biggest challenges right now are, what’s going on (high-growth, layoffs, etc.), and generally what their experience working there is. Allowing people to feel heard builds trust, so bring more ears than mouth to the meeting. If you find yourself babbling on about yourself, use the W.A.I.T. method: “Why Am I Talking?”– and remember you are there to listen and learn.
Listening and learning has the added benefit of identifying areas where you can add value and serve as a resource to your new contact, both professionally and personally. This can be as simple as sending them a link to an article relevant to the conversation a few days later, or an offer to put them in touch with someone they should speak to based on whatever challenge they mentioned.
4. Demonstrate consideration and gratitude
Minimize any feelings of being a burden by being ultra-aware of the time. If you asked for a brief call, make it brief. Most people have busy schedules to get back to, however enjoyable the conversation feels to you.
Whether the exchange happens via email, over Zoom, or in person, always bear in mind that this person is taking time away from their busy schedule to speak with you. Do not encroach on their generosity by extending the meeting far beyond the initial timeframe. If you are hitting it off, then the person will likely be open to building the relationship later in another call. If you they see you as a time killer, they won’t and the relationship may die.
Always express gratitude for their time and take nothing for granted. Follow up with an email or LinkedIn connection request reiterating the thanks.
5. Keep the friendship alive through low-anxiety interaction
Friendships, especially new ones, die if not nurtured with continued contact. But this doesn’t mean you need to constantly fret over your next email exchange. Stay top of mind with your contact by connecting on social media, liking or commenting on their posts to sustain engagement until your next request to chat again, which they will likely be more open to if you’ve engaged with them online.
6. Delay asking for assistance with applications
Any requests for direct assistance to secure an interview or consideration for a job should be delayed until after you’ve solidified the relationship, preferably during the second or subsequent meetings. Instead, focus on how you can help them achieve their goals in your initial meeting.
If you do make a request in the initial meeting, center it around introductions to other insiders so you can continue to learn more about their company, rather than requesting assistance with a job application. The latter should come only after you’ve built trust with the person.
Moving forward with networking confidence
If you follow the above tips, you can eliminate the worry that your networking attempts amount to pressuring people you barely know to do favors for you. You can confidently network by shifting from a burden mindset to a friendship mindset, where your primary interest is in getting to know friends of friends and adding value to others.