As a Career and Leadership Coach, I’ve heard every complaint about networking there is. That said, I’m open to hearing some new ones—so share’em if you’ve got’em! You may have said some of these before.
“I’m so bad at it.”
“I don’t have time.”
“It makes me feel fake.”
“I’m in a transition, so I’ll sound flakey.”
“I’m better with dogs than I am with people.”
“I don’t do small talk!”
“I’m too old. Nobody wants to talk to me.”
“I’m too young. I have nothing to say.”
“I JUST F’ING HATE IT!” (A classic)
Deep breathe, friends. There is a way to network so that you feel like you—AND you don’t have to add another job onto the two or three you already have.
Here are my New Networking Rules: For People Who Hate Networking to get you out of your head:
1. Language Is Power. Swap Out The Word “Networking” for “Connecting”:
Yes, networking can sound fake, phony, sales-y [insert hate-able word here], but what’s wrong with connecting with new people, asking a lot of questions, learning about them, sharing what you’re up to and building a relationship? It feels different and like something you would do in your everyday life. You never know if this person will be your new running buddy, a contact to meet for lunch once a month, someone who inspires you to take a new step in your career, the woman who connects you with the hiring manager at the company you’ve been researching or someone you will never see again. All of these are possibilities and it’s up to you to find out which one it will be.
2. Forget Networking Events, Connect Where You Are:
Birthday parties, swimming lessons, playgrounds, family brunches, drinks with friends who bring their friends, meeting in coffee shops—my weekends are filled with all of these things and guess what—they’re all opportunities for connecting. If you don’t have time to add in an evening networking event because you work late or you want to put the kids to bed—I get it! I’ve done some of my best connecting while my kids are otherwise engaged at birthday parties. The other parents are all thrilled to have something to talk about beyond the kids for a little while (and to excuse us from that next bouncy slide). I’ve also found that when people are out of the often-stifling environment of a corporate event, they let down their guard and are more open, interesting and interested in a lively conversation.
3. It Can Be a Game—Tally Up Chances To Practice Your Elevator Pitch:
Whether you’re looking for a new job or working on becoming more of a leader in your current role, you need an elevator pitch. There are many great articles online with formulas that work. Here’s one on Idealist.org that I like. Also, if you’re in a career transition, here’s another post that will help you figure out how to put that into words while sounding confident. It’s important that you practice your pitch aloud. You do not want to sound like C3PO. Before you get into an interview or a meeting with senior leaders, I recommend spending some time testing out your pitch on people in your close-in circle. Feel free to start with your partner, your close friend or your dog (especially if that’s your comfort zone as explained in the networking complaints above). Then move on to the friends of friends at that 40th birthday party you promised you would go to, but don’t know anyone beyond the birthday girl. Can you wrack up one practice a day? Go!
4. It’s Not About You:
If you’ve read the first three rules and still want to hurl, try setting an intention that’s not about you. Practice your listening skills. Ask unexpected questions. Think about ways to help this person who’s taking the time to connect with you. In our distracted world, many of our conversations don’t include this level of listening so this can be a powerful way to get started.
You may have heard the stats—over 80% of jobs are found via networking connecting. This can be a game-changer for you now that you know how to do it in a way that feels authentic and not like you’re constantly trying to be a “closer!” (said with loving respect to all you authentic closers out there). You do you and see what happens in the process.