(Don’t!) Mind your own Business — Asking Questions that Build Connections and Networking through all the B.S.
Networking is hard. It just is. No matter how old I get, or how many meetings, trainings, or networking events I’ve attended, I still get those butterflies when I find myself in a room of new colleagues.
It feels super pretentious at times.
What do you wear?
I kind of picture professional networking like the game White Elephant/Dirty Santa around the holidays. Most people say they love it, but it’s really stressful! Especially when playing with people you don’t really know…to me, professional networking feels like packaging yourself up with a nice little bow and tossing yourself into a circle of strangers among other similar packages, hoping someone’s interested enough to take a chance on you, and see what’s inside. What if my wrapping paper isn’t nice enough? What if other people spent more on their gift? What if everyone laughs at what I have to offer? What if no one even wants what I have to offer?
It’s the old fear of getting picked last on the kickball field.
It’s the stress of your first day of on the job training.
It’s the embarrassment of eating alone at the luncheon and staring into the abyss of your cell phone to drown out the noise until the next speaker walks up.
For me, it’s often wondering if you’ll ever feel like a “real” professional, whatever that looks like…
As a therapist, it’s all the feelings and things my clients talk about fearing the most when faced with life transitions, delving back into the school or the work world, and that general act of “putting yourself out there.”
What I tell my clients in session is exactly what I have to remind myself, fairly often. You’ll never know what’s on the other side of “what if” unless you you’re willing to push past discomfort. Sometimes we play the opposite game in session and positively reframe the anxious thoughts they may be having.
What if everyone there is more established than me –> What if I’m more established than everyone else?
- Reframe: I may not be as established as everyone else, but maybe I’ll be able to ask a few questions about what my next steps should be if I want to grow in this field.
What if they don’t like me/What if I don’t like them —> What if they like me/What if I like them?
- Reframe: I may meet someone I don’t particularly like, but I still might learn something from them.
What if I don’t meet anyone that can help –> What if I do meet someone that can help?
- Reframe: I may not meet the exact person that will help me in my business, but I may meet someone with another contact they can connect me with.
By looking at each “what if” and reframing it as an opportunity for growth, it forces yourself to acknowledge that there is the potential for real, authentic connections if you can wade through all the b.s. you may find on LinkedIn or hear at that upcoming lunch and learn.
If we can push past the surface level chatter, professional networking is a great chance to really see the person behind the profession. It’s in those moments that real connections happen.
Here are a few networking icebreakers to try:
- Establish a similar baseline, level the playing field, and ask the person if they’ve ever felt what you’re feeling,
“I just started in this field, when did you start and did you feel as overwhelmed as I do?”
- Ask what led them to the networking event and share what you hope to gain from it. This circles back to the opposite game, maybe that person can’t help you personally, but they may know someone who can,
“I picked this training so I could hopefully find a connection to ____________, how did you find this training? Do you know anyone that specializes in ____________.”
- Thank the person for bringing up a point during break time,
“Hey, I was really glad you talked about _______________________ earlier, I was actually hoping that topic would get brought up, I’d love to hear more about what you do.”
Networking may always lead to some anxiety for you in varying degrees, but know that you aren’t alone and it doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from putting yourself out there or have a successful career. If you’re interested in building up confidence in this area, finding a local therapist that works in career counseling, popping into a toast masters to practice public speaking, and even verbalizing your anxious thoughts to a trusted and safe person can help. Some tips that help reduce more minor anxieties in networking are:
- Dress up, but stay comfortable. If you look good, you feel good! Pick an outfit that you feel confident in, while comfortable. Nothing is worse than pulling at a too tight or slightly too short skirt all day, or wishing you’d just worn the darn dress socks instead of your gym socks.
- Bring your business cards. I know there are arguments for and against business cards. I personally love a business card exchange, especially if I can jot a couple notes on the back as a reminder of how this contact can help me or how I can help them. If you are are too cool for cards 🙂 , be sure to connect on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook Business page, whatever platform suits your field where you can reach out in the future, if needed.
- Prepare a couple filler stories. Whether you jot them down in your phone, or just make a mental note, filler stories are great ice breakers. Jot down a funny thing that’s happened to you in the last couple months, a news story you read about this week, anything to combat that mental panic of “I don’t know what to say next” after the typical introductions.
- Have a plan for lunch, even if you don’t use it. If lunch isn’t provided, and there is a significant break happening, joining a few new colleagues is a great way to network outside of the event bubble. Have a restaurant picked out ahead of time so if anyone asks you where you were planning on eating, OR if you have the confidence to ask someone else what their plans are, you will have an easy option to offer up.
- Last, but not least…Bring a pen and paper! There is nothing worse than being that person shuffling through your bag, looking all kinds of unorganized as things get started. In fact, bring a spare so you can help out the poor soul that eventually realizes they are pen-less and want to take notes. (Can you tell this has been me one too many times??)
If you have any tips that work for you, leave them in the comments below! I’d love to hear more about what’s helped you feel more prepared or comfortable in networking events.
If you’d like to talk to me more specifically about career counseling in person or through video sessions, send me a message and we’ll set up a time to talk about how I can help you gain more confidence in putting yourself out there.