career networkingCareer networking is one of the most vital things you can do to kick-start your job search and help put your career on the right course. Want to know how important? A survey by HubSpot revealed that 85% of jobs are filled through networking. This suggests that a vast majority of job opportunities are not advertised but filled through personal and professional connections.

Career networking involves building and maintaining relationships within your industry or profession to support your career goals. It’s not just about securing your next job; it’s about establishing a network of individuals who can offer guidance, support, and opportunities throughout your career journey.

As important as networking might be, for many professionals, it can trigger anxiety – especially for introverts, neurodivergents, and over-thinkers. The idea of engaging with strangers and making small talk can be so uncomfortable that you may avoid it, missing out on powerful connections and community building.

So, let’s go over some strategies and talking points you can develop ahead of time, allowing you to navigate professional events and business interactions more comfortably, and network with purpose.

Prepare In Advance to Alleviate Anxiety and Provide a Sense of Control

Research attendees beforehand to identify individuals with whom you’d like to connect. Prepare conversation starters related to their interests or achievements to initiate meaningful interactions. Connect before the event, and you’ll never walk into a room full of strangers

Let’s also prep in advance by requesting an attendee lists from organizers and connecting with your target audience on social media. (Hint: this is where your newly crafted LinkedIn profile comes in)

This will help to reduce the anxiety of initiating cold conversations, because you’ve established a rapport with them before the event even started.

Join the Team and Network with a Purpose

If you’re an insider, the career networking battle is half-way won. Consider joining a professional committee, board, club or other group that not only puts you in contact with people in your industry but gives you a purpose for being at events. Conversations are easier when you have a purpose for interacting. When you’re chipping in at the sign-in table, you have a reason to greet people, learn their names, and begin a dialogue.

Consider Alternative Career Networking Environments

Connect online (vs IRL). Meeting people in-person is always more effective, but many people are able to express themselves better remotely, which gives more time for thoughtful and informed communication. Seek out online opportunities and groups to join on professional social media.

Schedule one-on-one meetings or small groups to expand your network comfortably. Large gatherings can be especially intimidating, and this gets rid of the audience.

Career Networking is Reciprocal

Career Networking works both ways, people. As such, you should focus on what you can offer others, not just what you can gain. Practice active listening and offer assistance to cultivate mutually beneficial relationships. According to a study cited by the International Listening Association, listeners are perceived as more likable, which can be advantageous in sales and negotiations. In fact, sales professionals who are good listeners can increase their sales by over 40%.

Authenticity Relieves the Pressure of Maintaining a Facade

Being yourself fosters more genuine connections and is much less pressure than trying to maintain an artificial facade. Use your unique experiences and perspectives to enrich conversations and build rapport. Also, be sure to ask open-ended questions and shift the focus from self-evaluation to learning about others’ perspectives and experiences.

Take Breaks and Communicate (Positively!) with Yourself ‍

Social interaction can be a draining exercise. Allow yourself breaks during career networking events to recharge and refocus. Excuse yourself briefly to regain composure and manage any overwhelming feelings. Acknowledge any discomfort or challenges you may face without blame. Give yourself permission to adjust to new behaviors. Reflect on your interactions and take notes on the people you’ve met, topics discussed and things you want to address.

And after you’ve gone through the wringer of making all of these career networking contacts, remember to follow up with them to solidify those bonds.

Career networking is a vital tool for professional growth, but it doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) an anxiety-ridden experience. Implement strategic approaches thorough preparation, genuine engagement, and self-awareness, and make networking a rewarding experience. Remember that everyone brings unique perspectives and qualities to the table, making each networking opportunity a chance for mutual learning and connection. Be authentic, genuine, and network with purpose to discover new avenues towards advancing your career.

Now … go shake a hand or two! ‍