We’ve all heard it before: the most effective way to land your dream job is by networking. Networking is a skill young professionals informally learn and use through experiences and practice.
Not many of us enroll in college courses on How To Network 101, and therefore lack the ability to understand and perfect the craft of networking. Networking is more than swapping business cards with potential employers. It’s a technique requiring confidence, knowledge, and more.
By definition, networking is the process of exchanging information and services with others who share a common interest. This shared interest can be a passion (e.g. writing, art, music, etc.), a service (e.g. graphic design, teaching, consulting, etc.), or a product (e.g. book, stapler, water bottle, etc.).
Whether you’re networking with others in an attempt to exchange information about how to increase real estate sales, or you’re hoping to be considered as an intern for a local radio station, the craft of networking requires polished communication.
While you may feel an instinct to swap business cards with others while you’re sitting in on a convention, meeting, seminar, or traveling, think again. That’s only a small piece of the puzzle.
Networking is about exuding confidence, sharing your professional background, identifying your mission, and having a “what I can do for you” attitude. Your goal is to exhibit why you want a job, a better understanding of a career path, a collaborator on a project, or whatever other reason you’re looking to make professional connections. Be clear in your intentions.
Do share your business cards with others, but support your intentions with purpose.
The process of networking can feel intimidating and seemingly impossible at times, and thus often leads to networking nerves. Here at GenTwenty, we want you to beat your networking nerves to create the most polished, effective, and genuine networking experience you can possibly have.
Here are ten ways to combat networking nerves:
1. Be yourself. It may seem like an obvious place to start, but it’s true: be yourself. Potential employers are seasoned and can see right through phony facades. Always be true to who you are and you’re bound to exude confidence.
Give your networking buddy an idea of who you are, what your mission is, and why you believe s/he is a valuable resource to your goal, product, or service. By being yourself the potential relationship you’re creating is genuine and authentic, and you won’t have time to be nervous because who knows you better than you do?
2. Practice your elevator speech. A critical way to combat networking nerves is by practicing your elevator speech. Your speech should be a brief summary of what you do to bring meaning to your brand and define its value in the proposition you’re making. Speaking off the cuff without any prep is bound to make you stutter over your words and lose track of why you’re networking.
Instead, practice your speech ahead of time and create a clear idea of what to say when you’re in the moment. This way, you’ll be announcing your speech rather than tripping over it in a bouquet of clumsy words.
3. Be confident. Carry your body language in a confident manner by standing tall, smiling, and exchanging firm handshakes with others. Exuding external confidence will certainly increase your confidence inside and beat any lingering nerves you may have! Smiling makes you more approachable and others will identify you as a friendly professional. Don’t forget to speak loudly and clearly, and always be mindful of your body language.
4. Ask questions. If you find yourself stumbling over words or forgetting part of your speech, take the heat off of you by asking the other person questions. This will give you a short break to compose yourself, and also demonstrate how interested you are in what the other person has to stay. You’re networking, so this is a relationship about give and take. The conversation shouldn’t be all about you anyways, so share the time evenly and use inquiries as an opportunity to relax yourself.
5. Concentrate on conversations. You’re nervous, we’ve all been there, and sometimes the nervousness you’re feeling may make it difficult to focus. Do your best to concentrate on conversations. Whether you’re included or not, give the people around you all of your attention and focus. By being engaged others will notice you’re unwavering eye contact, you nodding in agreement, and how clearly you’re focusing on what’s being discussed. Concentrating on others should relax you a bit.
6. Take deep breaths. When the spotlight shines on you and you find yourself red in the face with perspiration dotting your forehead, remember to take deep breaths. Pausing between sentences is perfectly natural and it gives you a moment to catch yourself. Utilize lulls in the conversation to catch your breath or pause for a sip of water. This is completely acceptable and encouraged if you find yourself with all eyes on you.
7. Be prepared. If you know you’re attending a conference of sorts, be certain your briefcase is packed with the essentials for networking (business cards, flyers, copies of your resume, etc.). Being unprepared is irresponsible and others will notice if you have nothing to give them during your conversations, which will only increase your nerves.
Something small like a pen with your contact information or a business card that fits your brand is the ideal gift to leave with prospective employers and/or partners. Even if you’re not expecting to network, try to keep a small stash of these items in your purse or bag. You never know when a networking opportunity will present itself!
8. Dress the part. Just as looking confident is important, dressing the part is critical, too. Nothing is bound to make you feel more on the spot and nervous than being dressed in casual or inappropriate clothing during a networking opportunity.
If you’re attending a convention or seminar, be sure to wear dress pants, plain tops, dress coats, and appropriate footwear. Avoid clothing like graphic t-shirts, jeans, and sneakers. These casual choices will decrease your professionalism and only add to your nerves. Instead, dressing for the job you want will make you feel more confident and others are bound to notice.
9. Think positively. A fantastic way to combat networking nerves is by thinking optimistically. By having and maintaining a positive frame of mind you may surprise yourself with how confident and prepared you will feel. Instead of thinking about all the ways you could possibly screw up, fill your mind with all of the ways in which your networking experiences will be exceptionally effective.
10. Be polite. At the end of your networking experiences, remember to thank others for their time and insist you’ll be in touch. Even if you’re entire conversation was filled with nerves, sweat, and embarrassed expressions, leave off on a solid note by being polite.
The person or people you network with may not have even noticed your nerves and will be more apt to call or email you to schedule another meeting or possible interview. Sometimes our vision is skewed by what we feel and we don’t see how wonderfully everything went. Leave off on a polite, genuine note and you may be surprised by the results!
Networking is by no means an easy skill. Rather, networking is a craft that takes time, practice, and experience to polish.
To be effective at networking you must be prepared, dress the part, exude confidence, and think positively. Nerves and doubt may cloud your vision, but remember to combat those qualms with these ten tips.
Here at GenTwenty, we believe you can beat networking nerves and be your best self!