Our Experts | Erin McGinty, Recruitment Specialist
I’m just going to throw it out there. Networking is awkward. Extremely awkward.
You’re probably worried about how you’ll introduce yourself and what you’ll talk about to keep the conversation moving. Do they want to talk to you? Do you even have anything to bring to the conversation? There’s no chance they’ll want to follow up and grab coffee, right?
I get it. I’ve been there. And from the other side, I’m happy to tell you: it gets easier (and less awkward).
Even if you’re the most outgoing person in the world, networking is uncomfortable. When you walk into a room full of people you don’t recognize, your first (and most natural) reaction is to find the first person you know and glue yourself to their side.
I recently attended a networking event where I knew there would be hundreds of new people for me to meet. There also was a big group of about 20 people from Alliance who I already knew that were attending.
The easy option would have been for me to go stand by my friends and have a good time. Instead, I took the less comfortable option that would allow me to meet new business connections. I went and sat alone at a table. I figured eventually someone would come over and talk to me. And someone did—actually, multiple someone’s came over to introduce themselves that night.
When it comes to networking, the first and most important step is to just put yourself out there and be ready to talk to the people around you. At first, it will probably just be small talk. Hey. How are you? What do you do for a living?
But then, you’ll find a connection. And the conversation is off as you’re talking about a mutual interest or experience.
You’ll learn something. And maybe there’s no immediate gain—you don’t get a new client, a job offer, or a new best friend—but you’ve been able to bring something out of the conversation, and you have a new contact who could help you down the road.
If you’re really worried about it—join a networking group and start practicing. There are groups specifically for young professionals—and no one will think twice about you being young and awkward in those networking meetings. Plus, after a few networking events in your specific industry or group, you’ll start seeing more and more people you already know.
If you’re still nervous find a mentor who will push you into uncomfortable situations that will help you to meet new people and grow. The more often you push yourself to network, the more comfortable the situation will become.
For me, it was one of my coworkers. She had me join the Cleveland Society for Human Resources and I went to a luncheon with her. She let me sit at her table and she introduced me to a few people. The very next meeting though, she sent me out to sit at a different table and meet new people on my own.
When you’re young and new in your career it’s easy to put networking off. But the reality is when you’re first starting off, that’s when you need to meet people and build connections the most.