You were taught not to talk to strangers as a kid. That’s why it’s normal that networking is uncomfortable. Find out how being brave enough to extend a hand can bring unforeseen opportunities.
Who is sitting near you right now? Look around. Do you really ever know exactly who you are attracting? A fun exercise: Consider the folks who surround you at any moment, and think about the role they could play in your job search.
We’re out and about in our everyday lives all the time, but not until we slightly tweak those simple interactions toward a job search-related conversation do we realize the wealth of contacts waiting on our doorstep. I believe that what we are seeking is seeking us — we just have to demonstrate the courage to get out of our comfort zones, extend a hand and meet the people around us.
Brave little moments like this can reveal incredible relationships and opportunities virtually at our fingertips.
When I lead workshops for recently laid- off professionals, I make a game of our mid-morning and lunchtime breaks by challenging participants to go out and meet someone they would not usually meet … and strike up a conversation. At first, my attendees look at me like I’m crazy because they are so used to living in their comfort zones of safe and “rational” living. Yet, in times like these, if you’re going to produce networking results outside the ordinary, you’re going to need to stretch yourself beyond ordinary ways of operating.
I encourage people to become a COW: a Citizen of the World, finding creative ways to engage people in conversations that artfully turn toward your career campaign.
Here are a few points that can help you get outside your own comfort zone:
1. Realize that networking is weird for most people.
You’re not the only one afraid to stick out that hand or start a conversation. Fear of rejection shapes most of our lives … but it’s the brave ones who go beyond that False Evidence Appearing Real that make others comfortable in relating back. We all converge in the streets as brothers and sisters during an earthquake — why not generate that same relatedness all the time?
2. Find natural opportunities to connect.
With a little practice, you can learn how to start up a conversation anywhere: in the line at the coffee shop, checking out at the grocery store or in the elevator at the office. When you want to buy a Prius, you see them all over the place. When you want to find ways to connect with people, you’ll be overwhelmed by all the opportunities to do so surrounding you every day. You just have to start looking!
3. Add a simple question to your brief conversations: “What do you do?”
It’s a simple ice-breaking question that most people don’t think to include in their short, passing conversations, yet it turns that everyday conversation into one that can help you. If you ask someone “What do you do?” they will most often ask the same question of you … which gives you a job search-related conversation that can reap you information and connections that you would have simply walked by.
4. Develop your 30-second “HELLO.”
Helping Everyone Locate and Land Opportunities ™ is your mission. Your purpose is to be of service, and to make as many helpful connections for others as possible. When you relate to others from that service frame of mind, others will naturally seek to do the same for you. They’d feel guilty not to!
5. Give a card w ith contact info.
Most people out of work don’t think to print up personal business cards, yet you’ll give out your verbal “resume” (what you do) much more than a written resume … and it’s often those unexpected connections who will amaze you with the extent of their reach. But if they can’t reach you after the contact, you’re lost. Print up something simple and make a point, just short of shamelessness, to give it out after any and all chance meetings.
Don’t wait until you “feel like it” to start networking better. It will never come naturally or easily at first because it’s outside your comfort zone. Yet, once you’ve stretched a few times and noticed the incredible goodies of helpful information, contacts and relationships that you gain from simple-acts-of-everyday-networking-bravery, you’ll get addicted and grow more savvy. Don’t try to become a networking guru extraordinaire overnight. Just one day at a time, stretch yourself a bit further than the day before.