Stumbling blocks to success: Poor networking skills

I’ve now written quite a few posts about stumbling blocks to success but, unsurprisingly, I’m not the only person who writes about this topic. I recently found an article by business etiquette expert Lisa Ramsey that lists five stumbling blocks to successful networking, and today I’m going to share with you her advice on how to overcome those problems.

As I have said often in this blog, in public appearances, and in my book, successful networking is crucial to a successful job search. I have read that more people found a job in the U.S. last year through a friend (or the friend of a friend) than through any other form of job searching. So if you’re uncomfortable networking, you need to take a close look at this advice and then see what you can do to become more comfortable!

  1. “A reluctance to talk to strangers.” In today’s world, it’s rare that we go out of our way to talk to strangers. We teach our children not to do it, and we model that behavior by keeping to ourselves in public places. When was the last time you had a conversation with someone in line at the grocery store or while waiting for a movie to start? Most of us are just a bit too busy and a bit too leery to start conversations with those we don’t know. However, there’s a time and a place to talk with strangers, and those times and places are within meetings or social events that are specifically designed for networking. These include professional association meetings or conferences, information interviews, professional or social meetups, and so forth. The advice for overcoming this reluctance to talk to strangers is to plan ahead of time for some ways to introduce yourself and start a conversation. What often works well is to ask questions that will get the other person talking about him- or herself (but without prying!). So if you’re at a professional meetup, you can ask people where they work, how long they’ve worked there, what they do, how they like their job/organization, and so forth. If it’s more of a social event, you can ask how they know the organizer of the event, if they have come to similar events in the past, or even what they think of the event so far.
  2. “Lack of a formal introduction.” Although Ramsey says this is a stumbling block, it seems odd to me. I don’t know many people who stand on formality these days, but perhaps I live in a different world than Ramsey. (Okay, I know I live in a different world—academics don’t stand on formality when it comes to talking to strangers.) That being said, Ramsey suggests that you just walk up to people and introduce yourself without waiting for a third party to introduce you. Again, you want to plan what you will say and have some questions in mind. Ramsey suggests that if it’s the first time you have been to this type of meeting, you can start by saying that. Something like, “Hi, I’m [name] and, I’m new here. Can you tell me a little about [this organization or sponsor or group.]” You can also let them know why you’re attending.
  3. “Fear of being seen as pushy.” If you’re at a networking event, everyone there recognizes that the purpose is to meet people, so no one will think you’re being pushy. However, Ramsey provides an excellent tip. She suggests that you approach people who are standing alone (and since they may be just as uncomfortable with networking as you are, so they could be relieved that you’ve come over to talk with them) or who are standing in groups of three or more. If two people are talking, they may be having a private conversation, and thus would not appreciate someone interrupting them.
  4. “Thinking that other people may not like you.” Not everyone IS going to like you, that’s just life. You probably don’t like every person you’ve ever met. But that’s not something you can predict, so just recognize that not every person you approach is going to be, well, approachable. But if they’re at a networking event, the whole idea is to meet other people, so just move on to the next person if someone you try to talk with doesn’t seem interested or friendly.
  5. “Having your intentions misunderstood.” Ramsey says that some people fear they will be seen as flirting if they approach someone of the opposite sex, but you can minimize this potential if you keep in mind that this is a business/professional event, make sure that your questions and conversations are focused on business/professional matters (not private or personal matters), and dress professionally!