No matter how gregarious you may be in social situations lacking professional pressures, the prospect of networking can transform even the most outgoing of social butterflies into shrinking violets. You know the symptoms: Your voice gets quiet, your body language communicates insecurity and awkwardness, and you feel completely out of your comfort zone. This transformation may be due to any number of reasons. You may hate asking for favors or being burdensome, you may feel you don’t need to participate in networking to get ahead in your job, or you may simply feel overwhelmed at the idea of reaching out to perfect strangers for help. So why should you not fear networking and why should you even care? Here are five answers to address these questions.
1. Not many people have the privilege of walking right out of school and into a job they love without having the connections to get them there. Everyone has to start somewhere in their job search and while networking may seem intimidating, jumping into the job market without a guiding and influential hand is even more terrifying and potentially less productive.
2. People are generally good and are willing to help out others who come to them in need. Especially at events created specifically for networking, but also in most other professional situations, it is likely that people will want to help you out in some way. So why not let them?
3. And even if you are a die-hard cynic, consider that you aren’t just asking for help while offering nothing in return. If you market yourself as an investment, you might be able to persuade others to help you out in exchange for future favors down the road. The connections you make when networking are not just for your benefit, but for everyone involved.
4. Even if you are unable to immediately land a job with the new connections you make, you will at least be able to expand your professional network which will be a continuous resource for you to draw upon as you carry on through your job search. In effect, your network can act as a source for job leads, contact information, career advice, and motivation, or maybe even as a tool for developing some long term friendships.
5. About the worst thing that can happen when asking someone for help in your job search is to be told “no.” So, in the end, what do you really have to lose? As you look for a job and a career, it is generally expected that you will seek out help when you need it. No one is going to approach you to offer their services as a professional contact or mentor. So the more people you ask, the more likely you are to develop a lengthy list of connections that can help your search in a variety of ways, even if you have to suck up a few turn-downs along the way.
Networking can be an intimidating and overwhelming chore but the benefits of having a healthy list of industry connection far outweigh the short-term fears and burdens of reaching out to your peers and professional superiors. The last thing you want to be on your journey through your career is alone. And the best way to make headway in your industry and gain competitive advantage is to get to know the right people, make the right impression, and ask the right questions to get ahead in your career.
For tips on how to become a successful networker, check out the Association of Corporate Counsel’s list of advice for professional networking.