By Liz Ryan
When I was growing up, my mom had a cookbook called The I Hate to Cook Book. At the time, it was bold for a woman to say that she hated to cook! It’s much the same way with networking, today. You’re not supposed to hate networking. But many people do.
If networking isn’t a natural strength of yours, don’t give up hope. You can network as much as you need to – remembering that a big slice of the population doesn’t love to chit-chat with strangers any more than you do. Here are some tips to get you going.
When I began networking in the eighties, I positively dreaded it. I didn’t want to do it at all – my boss forced me to go to HR events, as I was a corporate HR person at the time. I’d sit in agony and attempt to make conversation with the person seated next to me at the rubber-chicken luncheon.
Over time, I noticed something – lots of people didn’t especially love these boilerplate business-focused conversations. So, I changed my tack. I’d ask “Where did you grow up?” That question has nothing to do with business, but I’d see a spark in a person’s eye as they answered, because people like to talk about their lives – and who can blame them?
Now, I mix business and ‘life’ conversation whenever I meet someone new. It’s important to avoid sensitive topics – for instance, “Are you married?” But you can ask a person how s/he spends time outside of work, what s/he studied in school, or what s/he thinks of the networking event you’re attending – all good topics.
Don’t be so afraid of networking events that you miss them entirely. Networking is great for your career and for your professional credibility. Take it slowly, don’t second-guess yourself, and eventually, you’ll have some great contacts, and maybe even a great deal of fun.
Liz Ryan is Job-Hunt's Networking Contributor. Liz is a former Fortune 500 VP and 25-year veteran of corporate human resources departments. In addition, Liz is the author of Happy About Online Networking and an internationally recognized expert on careers and the 21st century workplace. Find Liz on LinkedIn and on Google+.