How to Make Networking Less Awkward
By Vanessa Hou
Ahh networking. We all know what it is, we all get its importance and yet, even the bravest amongst us break into a cold sweat at the very mention of the word.
I remember my very first careers fair, back in first year. Have no doubt, a room filled with future employers is intimidating. Everywhere I looked there were industry professionals and eager penultimate-year students sweating it out over conversations about SMM, SEM, SEO (familiarise yourself with marketing lingo here: http://goo.gl/4QDU55) and when it finally came to my turn to talk to these industry gods… there were blank stares and nervous chuckles… it was awkward. In fact, calling the whole thing a ‘daunting’ experience would be like calling the Dove Real Beauty campaign a ‘small success’ – understatement of the century.
So what can you do to make networking less awkward? Read on.
Do your research! Do you have a specific question regarding the company’s internship program? Any questions about the organisational work culture? Or are you just curious about potential career pathways? I can say at least 99.98% of awkward networking situations come from you not knowing exactly why you’re there and what you want. So figure out what you want to get out of the conversation and this will save everyone time and keep you on track.
These poor reps literally stand there and talk to student-after-student for HOURS on end. Make yourself stand out from the crowd to really get their attention. Crack a joke, compliment their hair… anything, really.
Networking is about building quality relationships. So don’t get too caught up about regurgitating your entire skill-set and boasting about past work experiences since your high school checkout days. Focus on keeping an interesting conversation whilst keeping step 1 in mind.
Seriously, this is a problem. Time is ticking. Know when you need to stop the conversation and move on. Have an exit strategy in mind and use it when needed.
Try standing in the Great Hall around noon in the middle of a crowd… yeah the ventilation isn’t great. Be sure to thank industry reps for their time and for talking with you out of the many students there.
There we have it! My personal tips for diffusing all that the awkward tension in networking. Like anything, networking becomes easier with time and practice. Don’t be put off from that first traumatising encounter with industry reps and keep at it!
Go and mingle!
Best wishes from a friendly third-year commerce kid,
Vanessa Hou – Imparting Wisdom Since 1995