If you are anything like me, the thought of networking events sends chills down your spine. I always feel I have to go through a networking mental checklist to make sure the event is a rousing success:
- Act like a professional and not like an inexperienced college sophomore. Check.
- Dress for success and make sure I don’t have any iron burn stains showing. Check.
- Remain on my best behavior and try not to have my hands tremble from Smartphone withdrawal. Check.
- Make a lasting impression because I am engaging, humorous, interesting and unique. Don’t make a lasting impression because I dropped guacamole on my white blouse and forgot my name. Check.
I’m attending the School of Management at a university renownedfor its competitive business program and strong job placement rates. Within the first week of stepping foot on campus, the word networking was seemingly hurled at me hundreds of times…and it’s never stopped since. It was made abundantly clear that my entire life path was resting on how successful I was at networking…no pressure!
I can be a really shy person in new situations and having to talk to strangers and professionals was terrifying. I knew nothing about how to network; I had never done it before. When I attended my first university Career Fair, largely comprised of prestigious companies and successful alumni, I was too shy to talk to anyone. Instead, I stood awkwardly in a corner, diligently focusing on not spilling anything. I was a deer in the recruiter’s headlights. I just wandered around the networking event admiring everyone else having engaging and thoughtful conversations.
If you are caught in a situation like that, take it as a learning experience. Although I did not talk to anyone that first networking event, I used it to observe people and see how my classmates effectively interacted with the recruiters at the event. The next networking event I went to, I was more familiar with what to expect. I had some questions prepared to ask the recruiters so we would be able to have an easy conversation. Instead of cowering in a corner I went right to the recruiters to introduce myself. I had a great conversation with one alumni and I saw she even looked me up on LinkedIn after the event – she was interested in learning more about me! Was I nervous? Absolutely! But I knew I should, and could, connect with these recruiters who might have an influence on my career choice in a couple short years. After all, they are just people who were in our same shoes not all that long ago. Networking isn’t just about making a connection; it’s about meeting interesting people who can really offer valuable insights and share their experiences and careers. So if you are too shy to actually network, use it as a chance to observe and become familiar with the whole networking process. It will make other networking events a lot easier, and you will have a general idea of what to do and what to avoid. Here are some more tips I’ve learned:
1. Practice Makes Perfect
My best advice to people who are shy like me and intimidated to network is to keep practicing and go to as many events as possible. Start early in your college career so you have time to become a networking pro. Yes, I know it’s daunting but like the old saying goes, “practice makes perfect!”
The more you talk to recruiters and alumni, the more familiar the process becomes. You learn what to say and how to behave. It is like memorizing a script. Most conversations at these networking events tend to be on similar topics such as current events or “getting to know you” questions. The more events you attend, the more prepared you will be to answer these questions with class and confidence.
2. Stay Informed
My next piece of advice for every shy girl trying to network is to keep up on current events! No, I am not talking about which One Direction member is having a baby or who Taylor Swift is feuding with this week. Real events going on in the world that actually matter. It will give you something to talk about with the recruiter and will break the ice a bit. In addition, recruiters love it when you are up to date on current events, especially when it is about their company or industry. These discussions may even rack up a few brownie points. Before attending an event, check the news online, or on convenient apps on your phone. That way, you will always stay up to date!
3. Makes Yourself Stand Out
Finally, come up with an interesting fact about yourself that will help you stand out to recruiters and get the conversation going. For example, I go to a school on the East Coast, but I live about an hour outside of sunny Los Angeles. So, when I am in a group of students talking to a recruiter, I have learned to look for the common question—“Where is everyone from?” I get the opportunity to stand out with a unique answer, which almost always leads to a conversation where I get to talk one-on-one with a professional. Sure, they probably remember me as “California Girl”, but that means they definitely will remember me after speaking with hundreds of other students. This tactic can work for everyone. Identify a unique and memorable fact about yourself that you can use to start a conversation at your next event!
Don’t let networking scare you. It is intimidating at first, especially when you are shy and in a completely new situation. Try and stay calm and keep your cool. The more practice you get, the sooner will you be a networking star!