“After your shift is over, you all can go around and network for yourselves”
When I was a sophomore in college, I’d just started working in my school’s Office of Career Services. My resume and cover letter editing skills were excellent, but my networking… needed work.
As one of the most extraverted people in the office, my coworkers couldn’t understand why I was so terrified of networking. I could talk to students for hours about how they can network like a pro, but I couldn’t get myself to go out and use those strategies.
I had total networking anxiety.
At one of my first networking events, I tried to work overtime just to avoid having to network for myself. My shift ended, my supervisor told me to go network, and I snuck over and hid out with my friends who were on duty.
Finally, they told me I had to get out of their way and go network. Actually, my friend grabbed me by the shoulders, turned me around, and pushed me toward a table while saying, “Go introduce yourself!!!”
Since my first few networking attempts, I’ve (mostly) overcome my networking anxiety. I’m now way more confident about reaching out to connections and holding informational interviews. And, it’s not as painful as I used to think!
There are a few key strategies that can help anyone overcome networking anxiety. These are what I used to build my self-esteem and work up to introducing myself to total strangers. Using these 6 simple strategies, you’ll be able to network with anyone!
Why is networking so important?
Before I get into the 6 strategies to overcome networking anxiety, I want to quickly talk about why networking is so important.
Because, let’s be real: networking is scary. It means putting yourself out there and opening yourself up for rejection- which is not easy. But, it’s definitely worth it, because of the Queer-Eye-level of career transformations it brings.
Networking, at its core, is a process of mutually beneficial relationship building. So, when you’re networking, you need to remember you’re not an intrusion or annoyance. Even if you’re brand new to the working world and talking to a Senior VP- you matter!
Think about it this way: when you’re networking for a job, someone else is networking for an awesome employee like you! When you ask someone for an informational interview, they’re getting the chance to influence the future of their company and industry.
So, the 2 most important things to remember about networking are…
- It’s mutually beneficial, so you’re not annoying anyone by asking for a connection, informational interview, or professional favor
- It’s a habit: right now, you might think networking is scary, so you avoid it. The reason it seems scary, though, is because you haven’t built the habit.
If you view networking as a habit- something you have to practice to improve- instead of an ability (you either have it or you don’t), it can change your approach.
Your problem with networking isn’t you’re bad at it, it’s that you haven’t practiced it enough! Use these 6 strategies to overcome your networking anxiety, so you can start building your networking habit and getting all the incredible benefits of it!
Strategies to overcome networking anxiety
Use your inner circle
This is the best way to begin your networking journey: start with your friends and family! Networking doesn’t just mean reaching out to the CEO of a Fortune 500 company; it’s also asking your inner circle to help you out.
Even if none of your friends or family are in your field, you should still network with them. You’ll never know if your aunt’s college roommate’s best friend’s cousin is a recruiter at your dream company until you ask!
You can start with just a text to a few family members asking if they know anyone in your field or city. Or, write a quick social media post for your friends about what you’re looking for.
Seriously, you never know who someone is connected to until you ask- I bet the answer will surprise you!
Affirmations are one of my favorite ways to reaffirm your belief in yourself and your career goals. By repeating a few in the morning and before bed, sticking them on a mirror, or writing them in your journal, you’ll train your brain to think positively and build self esteem!
These are some great career themed affirmations to get started with, but you can also use general ones like “I am brave and I can do hard things” and “I am trying my best, which is all that matters.”
By training your brain to think motivating thoughts, you’ll be able to push out any networking anxiety that tries to creep in!
Networking might seem like it’s an all or nothing game: you’re either handing business cards out and cold calling people every second you can or you’re not really networking.
That, however, is totally untrue. Networking isn’t a slimy, selfish thing for rich old white businessmen. Instead, it’s a form of communication– which you do all the time.
Start networking with just a few simple conversations with people close to you. Try asking a professor for an informational interview, or seeing if your aunt will tell you about her career.
Practice on people you’re already comfortable with and work up to reaching out to new people. That way, you practice your skills, gain confidence, and start to build your networking habit.
Networking isn’t as complicated as it might sound, so don’t be afraid of starting slow!
Set time limits
This is another key trick to overcoming networking anxiety: give yourself a cut off time.
If you’re attending an in-person event, then pick an amount of time you feel comfortable spending there and stick to it. Think you can only stand to spend an hour networking? Then start with that for your first event and try adding a little more time during the next one!
With informational interviews, it’s actually even easier to stick with a cut off time. When you’re requesting one, you should always specify how long it’ll be. I usually recommend 20 minutes, especially for a first conversation.
A 20 minute conversation asking someone about their career sounds much easier than a crowded event in a ballroom, right? And it’s, honestly, a better way to network!
By giving yourself a time limit and sticking to it, you’ll make it easier to push through your networking anxiety and put yourself out there!
Because of COVID-19, networking has pretty much become totally virtual. You can research connections on LinkedIn or your school’s Alumni Directory, email them to ask for an informational interview, and have it on the phone or Zoom.
And, guess what…
You can keep it that way!
You don’t have to step foot in a ballroom turned professional conference or hand out a single business card if you don’t want to.
By networking virtually, you can grow and leverage your professional network without ever leaving your house!
Keeping it virtual is one of my favorite strategies to overcome networking anxiety. Yes, your nerves will probably still be there, but they won’t be as powerful!
Go easy on yourself
Finally, the most important strategy to overcome your networking anxiety: go easy on yourself.
If you end up saying something super awkward (I’ve been there!), sending an email with way too many typos, or dealing with any other embarrassing situation your anxious brain is coming up with, be kind to yourself.
It’s okay to embarrass yourself. It’s okay to have an awkward moment or two (or 10). You won’t ruin your career or damage your reputation by messing up while you practice your networking skills.
Before, during, and after every networking attempt you make, be your hype-person! Cheer yourself on, even if you make a mistake. Don’t forget, you’re trying and you’re learning- which makes you brave, strong, and totally awesome!
Networking doesn’t have to stay the scary, formal process we grow up thinking it is. Instead, think of it as a mutually beneficial form of relationship building. Then, to overcome networking anxiety, use your inner circle, repeat affirmations, start slow, set time limits, and keep it virtual. Most importantly, go easy on yourself. What matters is that you’re trying!