Nightmare-free networking

Avoid the awkward social functions and develop personal relationships

Graphic by Kelly Campbell.

Despite the terror networking incites in many introverted job seekers, it remains a critical ingredient in finding employment.

According to the federal government’s 2015 Job Vacancy and Wage Survey, more than half of Manitoba employers use networking to recruit. This is the third most popular strategy only rivaled by job posting on internal and external websites.

Of course, professional socialization has a pretty nasty reputation. Intimidating images come to mind of a pack of sophisticated strangers in suits schmoozing with each other while sipping cheap wine. The worst part is you must go talk to these terrifying strangers and somehow fit into the social scene and say eloquent things about yourself all without seeming pushy or desperate.

For many of us, this is what nightmares are made of.

What signifies success at these events is the formation of new relationships that can forward your career. But if your goal is relationship building — and these events make you cower in fear — why bother with them at all?

There is more than one way to network. How you build relationships is up to you.

Instead, take an active role in a relevant professional association or volunteer for a cause you care about. Get a job — any job — at a company you admire and take the time to introduce yourself to the people in the roles you wish you had.

Seek paid or unpaid projects that will allow you to connect with other professionals in meaningful ways. By working on a shared project, you will automatically develop a professional relationship.

As you immerse yourself in your field, opportunity will follow by happenstance.

From there, it is your job to capitalize on these opportunities. Take the time to create a meaningful connection. Ask insightful questions about the sector, seek relevant professional advice and demonstrate the skills you have to offer.

While all of this socialization may still be a step beyond your comfort zone, it will likely be worth it. These relationships can facilitate career opportunities by connecting you to jobs, mentorship, industry information and new professional contacts.

And for anyone who has previously failed at a formal networking event, be gentle on yourself. Not everyone feels comfortable in these settings.

The first time I was at a professional meet and greet, I made a beeline for the wine bar, had two pieces of dried out cheese, timidly edged toward a group of people who were so absorbed in their conversation they did not know I existed, then promptly downed my wine, ditched my dishes and ran from the room in complete terror.

The entire episode was mildly humiliating.

The reality is I will never be the sort of person who will feel at ease in contrived networking settings.

This does not mean an introvert cannot network, it just means they need to find more authentic-feeling settings. Rather than chalk yourself up as a failed networker, be someone who thrives one-on-one with others, connecting over a shared project.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with mingling at a wine-and-cheese event.

For a lot of people, these can be critical relationship builders that in turn build their careers.

So, if you are brave enough to make these events meaningful, do it. But if you feel paralyzed by the thought of shaking hands and chatting with people you do not know, take comfort in knowing there is more than one way to meet other professionals.

Instead, pursue an alternate path that will give you the time, connection and authenticity many of us require to succeed at meeting new people.

And as a friendly reminder to those of you who thrive in these situations — why not take notice of the introverts at the edge of the crowd who are unsure how to connect? Invite them into your conversation — you are there to network, after all.