Most people struggle with networking because of what I call the “scary-slimy-useless” trio:
- Networking can feel scary -- like you’re willingly putting yourself at risk of rejection or feeling like an imposter.
- Networking can feel slimy -- like you’re disingenuously using people to get what you want.
- Networking can feel useless -- like no matter how many events or coffee dates you attend, you’re still not making progress.
But by changing your mindset and approach, you can transform the way you feel about networking and the results you see from it.
If networking feels scary, reframe it as learning
It’s absolutely normal to feel nervous when you initiate a conversation with someone new, especially if you frame the conversation as a high-pressure, limited-time window to either impress someone or experience rejection.
Yet networking can feel less scary when you view it as an opportunity to learn from -- and show appreciation for -- someone else’s story and unique insight.
Whatever your goal may be, you have questions that can’t be answered through self-reflection and self-study alone, such as what it’s really like to work in a specific position or company, or what it takes to break into and succeed in a certain industry.
On the flip side, most people love talking about themselves, especially when they feel like their insights are truly valued and useful.
So stop calling yourself a networker and start calling yourself a researcher. Focus less on impressing your conversation partner and more on asking questions that help you gain needed clarity on where you’re headed and how to get there.
If networking feels slimy, reframe it as finding the right home to contribute your greatness
If that slimy feeling gets in the way of your networking, my guess is that you’re well-intentioned. But you’re worried others may think you're using them, or that finding a job through networking implies you didn’t earn it.
Take a moment to remind yourself that you are a talented individual looking to contribute serious skills and passion in service of a company you admire -- you stand to be a valuable asset to an organization that needs your help to achieve their mission!
By communicating your value and intent up front, you can rest assured that people will be genuinely interested in helping you find your way, and the right organization will thank you for finding your way to them.
If networking feels useless, try a strategic approach
Most people start networking by attending an event and hoping something shakes out.
Yet, while semi-random encounters can lead to meaningful opportunities, (and you want to be prepared to make the most of these opportunities when they arise), they rarely do.
For more reliable networking results, you want to be selective and intentional about meeting with people who sit at the intersection of your interests and are likely to say “yes” to a one-on-one conversation.
And there’s no reason to wait for an event to meet them! Get specific about your goals, identify who in your network could help you along your way, and then reach out directly to request a phone call or coffee date. You’ll be surprised by the rate at which you learn and find opportunities.
Small changes, big impact
The magic in these little shifts in mindset and approach is that they can help you transform networking from a scary, slimy and useless activity you avoid, to an informative, empowering and productive activity you enjoy -- and that gets you the job.
Give these small steps a try and let us know how they work for you in your job search and other endeavors. Or pop your own networking mantras and lessons learned into the comments section; we’d love to hear how you tackle the “scary-slimy-useless” trio.