What if networking is just not my thing?
Everybody we get to know, privately or in a work environment, becomes a part of our network, so we are all networking, in a way.
If you ask people around you where they heard about their current job for the first time, most of them will probably tell you it was from another person. Networking can be a very effective strategy for exchanging experience, advice and useful professional information, as well as finding partners for professional cooperation.
However, some people feel uncomfortable when it comes to active networking, i.e. intentionally developing work contacts. This can have many different reasons. Go through our examples, check whether you recognize yourself in them, and find related advice.
Potential reasons + related advice:
“I am worried that people might feel that I am abusing them if I approach them for networking.”
It is up to you to network in a way that is not abusing. When you approach people, ask them ABOUT things, not FOR things. That will prevent the other person feeling abused.
Try to also be a good listener and a helpful contact for others.
Talk through topics of your shared interests, not just your own, and then you are likely to learn interesting things. Most people actually love talking about their topics and fields of interest, especially if they feel they have met someone with common interests.
“I want to get work and advice in a fair way, not through chatting with someone during a conference break!”
Imagine you are an employer, a manager – a very fair one – and you need to find a new person for your team. What would you do?
At such moments we naturally tend to first consider people we know, or at least people known to our associates, and only if that fails, we seek among the unknown. The same applies to sharing experience and advice: we share much more with people we know than we would ever publish. There does not need to be any unfair intention in it, still the most useful professional information (including information about job openings) can be got from people, rather than from published sources.
It does not make the selection procedure unfair, if you, as a candidate, have a good reputation and references in the field, and that increases your value and chance of being informed at the right moment.
“In the end, it´s only about drinking and flirting (alternatively: add your own experience) at events like that, there are no work-related results.”
Have you experienced a networking event you did not like? Ok, we all have, just like we have all eaten bad food, met a nasty person and seen an ugly scene, and yet we still believe in tasty meals, good friends and beautiful places.
Don’t give up. Try to use networking events for your objectives, not letting the objectives of others discourage you, or simply find different events and other forms of networking opportunities. The choice is huge.
“I am just not the type for going to networking events, I don´t like private parties either.”
Networking events in a form of party-like gathering are just one of many opportunities for networking. Try to network at those events that you would participate in anyway (conferences, workshops, everyday situations) and apart from that, try other forms of networking: use online social networks, contact someone actively via e-mail or phone; ask your friend to introduce you to a friend who works in the field etc. If you do not like social events in big groups, developing contact with one or two people at a time might suit you better.
“In my business area everybody keeps things secret. They would not share anything with me anyway.”
If you work in a highly competitive industry, unpublished information may be extremely precious. However, you may be right that asking people explicitly for their know-how could fail. The best advice? Do not wait till you need something particular. Invest your time and energy into developing contacts gradually, starting today. People who trust each other share a lot, in any field. Also keep in mind to offer your own experience in exchange; it only works if it is a mutual matter.
“I think I should wait with networking till I have more experience and confidence in the field.”
“I am afraid that I could only ”take” from the others, so far I myself have nothing interesting to offer.”
Start building your network already, if you haven´t done it yet. Do not wait till you urgently need something or feel like you can offer more expertise. You have a lot to offer, no matter what stage of your career you are at: your frank interest, ideas, opinions, other contacts, support and most of all, listening.
If you are a recent graduate or you are changing your career, and you wonder how to present yourself well despite the lack of work experience, you can find some tips here.
As an exercise to build your confidence, take a sheet of paper and write down a list of ten items you can offer to others (such as listening and feedback on their ideas). If you keep struggling with it, contact me, and I can give you a short call coaching session on the issue.
“I am afraid that if I start talking to someone who is professionally very much senior to me, they will find it ridiculous that I approached them.”
It is a common myth of people who are inexperienced or junior in a field, that they think that other people are interested only in talking to someone equal or above themselves in the professional hierarchy. In fact, the seniors might enjoy talking to people just like you.
Sometimes they want to hear the opinions and experience of people less involved in the area.
On top of that, they were in your position once, and might be pretty open to sharing their know-how with you rather than with their peers, because you are no professional threat to them. Plus, it is pleasure to meet a nice person, so just be one and stop worrying about how much professional experience you can offer.
“I do not have much experience with professional networking yet, and I do not have a clue what to do, how to dress and how to behave there.”
As it depends on the particular networking opportunity, there is no general advice on what to put on and what to expect from the event. That is why I would recommend you to ask someone you trust (ideally from the same, or a similar, professional field) to help you with your networking at the beginning: e.g. to go to an event with you; introduce you to someone (and stay there) or help you formulate an e-mail to a new person. That way, you can quickly gain experience and confidence.
“I do network, but I do not see any real effect from it.”
What effect in particular would you like it to achieve? Networking can be useful for finding answers to questions that could help you improve your professional life. Try to write down a list of questions that you would like to find answers for, through networking. That will help you structure them, and you will more easily remember the questions when a good opportunity for asking appears.
Consider also whether what you are doing really is networking (not all communication with other people is networking). You can read more about it here. The most effective networking contacts are those developed gradually and for the benefit of both sides.
You can also try other forms of networking than those you have already tried: events, direct contact (e-mails, phone, in-person), social networks, asking a friend or colleague to introduce you to someone, and so on.
Everybody can find a form of networking that suits them, but such discoveries are often made when we are ready to go beyond our comfort zones and try something new.
Have you found your case among the examples above, or is there something else that prevents you from enjoying networking? Share your experience with the other readers, and I can send you some hints for your particular case: click here.