The Awkward Girl’s Guide to Networking

July 13, 2017
As a self-proclaimed awkward person and a newbie in the professional world, networking is definitely not my cup of tea. Even though I do consider myself to be a people person, talking to people in order to develop connections and “build my professional brand” can feel difficult – after all, I find talking to people in general exhausting, even more so when I have to introduce myself.

Still, it is a valuable skill and fairly necessary in today’s day and age; the saying “It’s not what you know, but who you know” is a true one, even if it doesn’t feel honest sometimes. Still, as much as I hate to say it, networking has enabled me to really develop meaningful conversations with great people, and I have gotten some of the best advice from sitting down for a one-on-one, even if I was terrified to start.

Although networking is not my favorite thing in the world, over the past two years I’ve acquired a little bit of knowledge from peers and mentors on the importance of networking and how to make it successful in spite of my awkward tendencies. I’m here to drop that knowledge on you friends, and I hope you’ll share some of your tips & tricks in the comments too – us awkward people have to stick together!!!

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when navigating the scary sea that is networking:

1. Be sincere.

The first step in networking is to find someone to network with – whether it is through a school function or meetings that you set up during your internship, you should develop a list of people/jobs/topics you would like to explore. Even though that does seem kind of intuitive, I definitely did not approach networking in that way initially. I don’t know about you guys, but the first few networking interactions I had were solely because my mentors had told me it was essential to “meet other people”, even though I didn’t really want to.However, I soon realized that the best networking experiences I’ve had were good because I was truly eager to learn from the person I was speaking to, whether it was a manager at a big company or my mom’s friend. Sincerity goes a long way in any human interaction, and in workplace settings particularly, it is easy for that experience to fall flat if honesty isn’t apparent.

These conversations were automatically easier to be a part of, as I found myself fully engaged in what the other person had to say, and I felt motivated and inspired after the interaction had ended. While you are developing that list, ensure that those who make the list are there because you are 100% interested in developing a relationship with them, not because you want to make sure that the VP of your company knows your name.

2. Introduce yourself. Just introduce yourself.

Once you’ve made that list, it’s now time to actually interact with all of these people! This can mean walking up to these people at a networking event, reaching out to them through a cold email, or asking a trusted advisor/colleague for an introduction. It is simultaneously the scariest and the most empowering part of the process, and it is probably one of the things I dread the most about this whole networking thing.
The biggest thing to remember is that this introduction is no different from meeting any other person. You’re not explaining something to your mom, presenting that super-technical project you are working on, or anything else. It’s easy to get swept up in the stress of the situation and word-vomit about literally every part of your life, but this step is much less complicated than we all make it out to be. Trust me.
“Hi, my name is [insert name here] – I know that you are an expert in [insert subject matter here], and I have a couple of questions about [insert topic of interest here]. I was wondering if we could maybe grab a [insert drink of choice here] sometime?”
It really is as easy as that. Email, in person, through a note – these two sentences should suffice and set you up for a great meeting.

3. Prepare [specific] questions…

I have a confession to make – I am terrified of awkward silences. I hate them so much that I will do anything to fill that void, and that has led to some even more awkward and embarrassing situations. As a result, I now over-prep myself so that I have enough material to ensure that they never ever happen. Now, I know this isn’t entirely healthy – after all, some silences are good, and pauses in conversation are good for both parties to catch a breath, but it helps to have some things prepared to avoid any of those blips of silence.
Before you embark on your networking adventure, tailor some questions to fit the purpose of your meeting. Do you want to know more about the internship program? Rather than just asking about the internship program itself, prepare more specific questions – maybe about the departments available, or the skill set you should develop for the opportunity. You will come off as impressive because the person you’re speaking to will know you did your research, and they will also be grateful for the awkward pauses you eliminate (bc they probably hate awkward pauses just as much as you do – true story!)

4. …but listen attentively. It’s a conversation, not a Q&A!

Have you ever planned a conversation in your head and then been totally caught off guard when it went in the opposite direction? Yeah, same – it can be a really stressful situation, and it doesn’t help when you are trying to make a good impression. A good way to prevent the anxiety is to ensure that the minute the conversation begins, you are committed to listening to what the other person has to say. Don’t think about the next question that you’re going to ask, don’t think about what you want to have for lunch that day, or about what that mean girl said to you 10 years ago – focus on existing in that moment and truly understanding the other person’s message to you. If you pay close attention, you won’t be surprised when the discussion shifts focus – you’ll be a part of it!It’s also important to remember that this person is probably expecting a conversation, not an interrogation. Don’t shove your prepped questions down his/her throat – it might come off as a little aggressive, and it will really open the potential for awkwardness. Instead, respond to what the other person has to say, and don’t be afraid to give your own opinion or two! Approaching it in this way makes it much easier to develop the conversation organically rather than creating a choppy dialogue solely consisting of the stock questions you prepared beforehand. After all, when you talk to a friend, do you prepare every single thing you are going to say to them? No – you listen and then respond accordingly, and that is just how you should approach a networking situation.

5. Remember – they’re humans, just like you.

During an Intern Alumni panel at work the other day, I asked the full-time employees how they became comfortable networking, and they all laughed. At first, I was taken a little aback – I didn’t think my question was funny at all, as it is something I continue to feel insecure about. After listening to their answers, however, I realized that a lot of them were just like me. Contrary to popular belief, they felt awkward in networking situations too, and it’s something that they continue to have to overcome, even as seasoned full-time employees.In the end, it’s important to remember that despite the “goal” of your meeting – to learn or further your career or whatever your purpose is – the person sitting across from you is just that. A person. A person with flaws and different life experiences and their own career path, and you shouldn’t psych yourself out by thinking that they are greater than you are. You want the relationship you develop to be mutually beneficial, and the best way to do that is to truly treat them like the human that they are rather than putting them on a pedestal.

Final Thoughts

Even though a little part of me still dreads networking situations, and not every interaction I have is a successful one, through these steps I’ve realized that networking doesn’t really have to be as bad and awkward as I used to paint it in my head. It can be eye-opening, exciting, and motivating, and it’s something that I know my awkward self will continue to struggle through and learn from.

Once you get over that mental brick wall, the rest of it gradually becomes easy – conversations begin to flow a little better, you begin to understand the kinds of questions you should ask, and you really get to develop a connection to the other person without even thinking. And at the end of the day, isn’t that the point?

Thank you for reading, and I hope that this will help you in your next networking adventure! Good luck – go do great things 🙂

Do you have any networking tips? What is the best/worst networking story you have?


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