By Lida Citroën
Networking is challenging for the best of us. Even the most extroverted people wrestle with initiating new relationships and extracting value from their contacts. While the concept of networking may have seemed unnecessary in the military, in your civilian career it will be critical.
Unlike our social relationships, networking in the civilian world should be viewed in an intentional and strategic way. If you approach networking as a focused meeting of your target audience in an authentic way in order to nurture mutually beneficial professional relationships, then networking becomes a very valuable part of your transition, and civilian career. After all, you never know who you are about to meet – that new contact could be the key that unlocks your future!
Here are a few of the reasons people dislike networking and how to overcome them:
1. Fear of rejection
It’s natural to view networking as making yourself vulnerable to a complete outsider. Approaching a stranger brings up our insecurities and fears of rejection and criticism. What if they walk away or reject my email? Will they laugh at me or see me as weak?
When someone approaches us to initiate a conversation, most of us will listen to what they say. If the initiator is genuine, it is very rare that a stranger will outright reject them. And even if they do, move on and shake the next hand or send the next email. You are going places, probably higher than that person if they have such a chip on their shoulder, so in the long run it is their loss.
2. Being unprepared
If you go to a job fair or networking reception unprepared and uninformed, you deserve to be fearful. Avoid this situation altogether and instead research the people you would like to meet. Find them online and read their profiles to see what they have done and whether you can find any similar interests that you could use as an in. What recent milestones or successes could you use as icebreakers to start a conversation? What have they done that you may want to try, such as a specific course, that you could ask their advice on? Have an idea of the topics you want to discuss and how you would like the conversation to go.
That person may be just as interested in you as you are in him or her. Practice your elevator pitch, so that when they ask about your interests, you can sell yourself and tell a clear story of who you are and what your aspirations are.
3. Failing to follow up
After you exchange business cards and say goodbye to a new contact, take a moment to write a note on the back of their card about the conversation. Then, when you email them as follow up, you can reference your discussion and any next steps. We are often afraid that we will forget a detail and embarrass ourselves, but if you do your homework and take notes, this should not be a concern. View their LinkedIn profile again to see where you might have common interests and experiences. Send an invitation to connect online and continue the conversation. Be sure to personalize the invitation to connect by referring to where you met and what you discussed.
Networking is not easy for most people. It takes practice to project confidence and remain genuine and relatable while meeting strangers who could impact your future. As you become an effective networker, you will learn to be more intentional and focused in the professional relationships you develop to aid and grow your career.