How stealth reporting and a good wingman can up your networking game
In our latest podcast, networking expert Miriam Salpeter has some advice to help even shy people make connections like a boss.
You found a networking event that’s guaranteed to be crawling with people in your field. You know you should go, but talking to strangers always feels forced. Fake. Totally awkward. So why do so many people feel that networking is non-negotiable when it comes to finding your next job? Simple: Networking actually works.
“Research shows that employers really value personal referrals above many other ways of applying for positions,” says Miriam Salpeter, career expert and owner of Keppie Careers. “Meeting people and having them make a referral or pass on a resume can really make all the difference for anyone in a job search.”
That’s all well and good, but what if you hate talking to strangers, shaking hands, making polite conversation—or worse—talking about yourself?
In our latest podcast, we asked Salpeter for her top networking tips for people who hate networking. Listen here, or read below for five steps you can take now to make the most of your next in-person networking event.
1. Do your homework
A lot of times people dread an event and really don’t want to make a lot of small talk. But if you prepare ahead of time to figure out things to say, you’ll be more successful, Salpeter says. And that takes research.
Take advantage of online RSVPs to see who’ll be there, and Google participants to learn a little about them. Where did they go to school, where do they work (or used to work), and what can you learn about them personally? Sure, you might feel like a stalker, but it’s all for a good cause: you.
“For instance, if you learn that they’ve volunteered at an animal shelter, you could bring up your interest in helping animals,” says Salpeter, who also recommends staying up-to-date on current events and pop culture. Being aware of who won the latest sports games and what TV shows are hot right now will give you more to talk about.
2. Bring a wingman or wingwoman
There are pros and cons to bringing a friend to a networking event. If you’re not careful, you could end up talking to your friend all night. However, Salpeter says the buddy system is the way to go for shy people, or anyone who feels awkward at a networking event.
“Try to tag team,” she says. “Practice introducing each other. Maybe your friend would be talking with someone and say, ‘Have you met my friend John?’ Then do the same thing for them. This is a great way to ease your way into the in-person event.”
3. Set goals for the night
“Challenge yourself,” Salpeter says. “Make some goals, like specific people you want to meet, or say, ‘I want to talk to five people or have five meaningful conversations.’”
By walking into a room with your goals clearly defined, you can stay focused, and hopefully any nervousness you may feel will be overpowered by your drive to meet those goals. Plus, if you reach your goal for the night, you can feel like you’ve achieved what you went there to do.
4. Master your elevator pitch
Salpeter’s first piece of advice for mastering the elevator pitch is never to introduce yourself as a job seeker.
“Unless the person listening to you is actually hiring, they already are turning off in their mind and thinking they can’t help you,” she says.
Instead, when introducing yourself, focus on what it is you do and offer, and what makes you special. Focus on not what you’re looking for, but what skills you have and how those skills could possibly benefit that person.
“The template I share with my clients goes something like this,” says Salpeter. “‘I work with (your audience/client) to help (solve a particular problem) by (actions or results).’”
How often do we go to networking events and meet someone but don’t follow up afterwards? That really is a lost opportunity. “If you think this is a person you want to connect with,” says Salpeter, “ask them, ‘What’s the best way to get in touch with you?’ Send them a nice note, and remind that person how you met. ‘I was the one wearing the red tie, we talked about baseball.’”
Also, if that person uses social networks, look them up. Nowadays there are so many ways to reconnect with people and remind them that you’re ready, willing and able.