How to Network -- and Not Hate It
One of the reasons I wanted to be a newspaper reporter -- and not a television reporter -- was because I didn't want to be in front of a camera. I didn't want people looking at me. I wanted to tell a story and was content with just having a byline.
So, when I tell you I understand it's hard to promote yourself, I mean it. Just doing a book promotion sent me into spasms of nerves. The only way I got past it was I started thinking of Lucy in that Vitameatavagamin routine. The one where she sells that snake oil that gets her drunk? I just kept talking about the product, hoping no one would think I was nuts (or drunk).
Many people are uncomfortable with the thought of slapping backs and promoting themselves to people they may or may not know. But networking is an important part of our career landscape, so I wanted to get some tips on how to get more comfortable doing it. Here's the story I did for Gannett/USAToday.com:
You’re not alone if you hate networking.
Even the most extroverted among us can dread talking about themselves to a stranger. And if you’re introverted? The thought of promoting yourself to someone else is the stuff of nightmares.
But network you must. If you want a job, if you want to get ahead in your career or if you just want to survive today’s workplace – you must network.
“You don’t have to be a back-slapping self -promoter to be an effective networker,” says Jim Randel. “You can do it in your own way at your own pace. But you’ve got to do it. It’s something so important that you don’t have a choice.”
Randel, author of “The Skinny on Networking,” (Rand Media, $14.95), says the key to getting over a networking phobia is to realize that there are different ways to enter the networking pool without feeling like you’re drowning in a sea of embarrassment and self-doubt.
For example, you can join a social network such as LinkedIn, where you create a profile that outlines your interests, skills and abilities. Or, you can use Twitter to connect with others who are in your industry or have similar interests. Those online connections serve as a sort of “prepatory” networking course, he says.
The next step is a phone call or in-person meeting, he says. “Having coffee with someone for 15 minutes is so powerful. You don’t get that from social media,” he says.
Randel says that initial connections through social media – or an introduction by a third party – always help smooth the way in networking. Without such contacts, you can find it more difficult to make the steps forward in your job search or career, he says.
“If you were walking down and street and all of a sudden someone got in your face, your first reaction would be to think this was a dangerous situation and you’d want to pull away,” he says. “It’s the same thing with networking. The other person is going to want to get away from you because they don’t know you. But if you’ve had some other kind of contact or introduction, the reflex by the other person is different.”
Some other tips for effective networking from Randel include:
1. Understanding that weak ties matter. Often someone you don’t know well – such as acquaintance – can help the most in pointing you toward a promising lead for a job, for example. Unlike family or friends, acquaintances have a different circle of people they know, and increase your chances of finding someone to help you. So, that stranger sitting next to you on a plane or at a baseball game may be just the key job contact you need.
2. Looking for connectors. There always seems to be that one person who doesn’t know a stranger. The guy who knows the name of every hotel concierge, garage mechanic and office supplier is someone who can connect you to a lot of people you may not know – or be to hesitant to approach yourself. The woman who belongs to a variety of organizations and who is diverse in her interests opens up doors because she connects with people who may be able to help you. These people are often very social and enjoy connecting other people. Take advantage of that fact, he says.
3. Being committed. At least 10 percent to 15 percent of every day should be devoted to networking. Don’t use social media “as a crutch” to avoid face-to-face contact, he advises, and make sure you’re connecting with those who can help you meet your goals. “If you’re looking for work, you don’t need to be just telling that to all your out-of-work friends. What the heck good is that going to do?” he says.
4. Never crossing anyone off your networking list. Past co-workers, classmates or former neighbors are all contacts that should be maintained. If you can’t remember everyone you know, begin with “a” in your computer address book to refresh your memory.
5. Never giving up. Even if someone doesn’t answer your initial e-mail, keep trying. Send a letter, make a phone call or even try another e-mail, he says. “You may have just caught them at a bad time. Keep trying. There’s no point in giving up,” he says.
What other networking tips do you have?