Every piece of job search advice you’ll read these days will tell you to network so you can access the “hidden job market.” What is that? That’s the jobs that aren’t posted because the hiring managers are either too overwhelmed or exhausted to go thorough their normal hiring process. Or jobs at small companies that don’t even have a “hiring process” but just call someone they know, or ask their current employees to send them referrals. Networking to access this hidden job market can put your name or resume in front of someone who’s ready to hire, and you won’t have to compete with hundreds of others who applied for the position.
But what if you aren’t feeling confident enough to believe that you can network effectively? Perhaps you are more introverted, or shy, or simply feeling like you’re not interested in talking about yourself. That’s OK. Some of the best networkers I know are introverts. You can learn from their success.
After all, networking is about relationships, and many introverts are curious and interested in other people. They don’t network by saying “I’m trying to find a new job.” They network with the intention of learning more about the person they’re talking to, so they may be able to learn something new from them, or help them out one day.
Here’s some tips I’ve observed that you can use when networking.
1. Take a class. Having a predetermined course of study gives you something to focus on and discuss with classmates. You don’t have to sign up for a college course; there are multiple adult learning opportunities available in your community or online. It may be a cheese class or a computer class – it doesn’t matter. Pick something that interests you and will expose you to new people.
2. Go to Toastmasters. I know, public speaking is a worse fear than death for some people. Guess what? You can attend a Toastmasters session for free, as a guest, and you don’t have to give a speech. A simple introduction is sufficient for most groups. If you do want to participate, there will be an opportunity for you to give feedback on others speeches, ask questions, or do an impromptu table topic speech lasting 1-2 minutes. Look for a smaller group, and communicate in advance with the leader so you feel comfortable the day you walk in.
3. Make a large group smaller. When you walk into a room with lots of people, start looking for the ones standing alone. Approach those people first, and have your opening line ready. It can be as simple as “Have you been here before?”
4. Be ready with questions. Being over-prepared can help you relax so you don’t worry about completely blanking out in a conversation. Think about some questions ahead of time, like:
- Do you have any vacations planned this summer?
- Have you ever been to an event at this venue before?
- How did you get into your profession?
- How did you start working for your company?
5. Give yourself permission to leave early. You don’t need to apologize, or explain. When you find yourself becoming drained and losing interest, just slip quietly away. If anyone asks, all you need to say is that you enjoyed yourself, but you have other plans.
Once the event is over, don’t forget to follow up with new people you met. LinkedIn is one of the best ways you can do this, by sending a message or an invitation to connect and including a personal note reminding the person where you met.