By Leslie Beckbridge
I am sure that you have heard that “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” when you are looking to find or change careers. It is no secret that employers love referrals to fill internal positions; they save time and money and are generally regarded as “good bets” because someone who knows the organization will vouch for them. Unfortunately, this creates a distinct disadvantage for introverts, people who are new to the area, have small networks or networks that are mostly outside their field/industry. As an introvert who has spent roughly a third of my life being the new kid on the block, let me share with you some easy tricks to maximize on any social gathering to find your dream job.
- Keep business cards handy. You never know when you might meet someone who wants to help you. Even if you are not currently employed, you can have business cards with your name and contact information printed cheaply. You cannot rely on a pen and paper being nearby when you need to give someone your contact information and it is just more professional to hand over a card when asked. It makes you look good when you are prepared.
- Shake hands. When you meet someone, it is polite to shake their hand when you introduce yourself. Your shake should be firm, but not crushing. A lot will be assumed about you by the way you shake hands and you want to convey confidence. A weak handshake makes you appear meek while a crushing handshake conveys arrogance.
- Listen. There is a lot that goes into listening aside from just hearing what someone is saying. Make eye contact, ask follow-up questions and be attentive to make strong connections. Before you start thinking about how someone can be useful to you, build a basis for the relationship by finding things you have in common.
- Read the mood. At a more casual social event, people may not want to talk about work. Keep the conversation light and only mention your job-search if it is directly relevant. Be mindful of social cues like people changing the subject or awkward silences that indicate you should back off work-talk. On the other hand, if someone takes up the subject and wants to discuss it, you should be prepared.
- Have an “elevator speech.” Know what you are about and be able to communicate that in a concise and compelling way. Wait for the person to ask about you before you launch into your spiel. Common questions at networking events include: “what do you do?” and “what brings you here?” You should be prepared to answer those questions in a professional way. If you are not currently working, focus on skills that you bring to the table and set you apart from others.
- Ask for advice, not favors. It is a turn-off for just about everyone to be immediately asked for favors from someone you just met and it makes you look desperate. Everyone likes to feel like an expert. Entreat yourself to your new acquaintance by appealing to their ego a bit. If they have a job similar to one you would like to have, you might ask how they got to where they are today. In a more casual scene, it might be more appropriate to invite them to get coffee or lunch sometime in the next week to discuss their work instead of turning their social time into a work conversation.
- Be humble. You want to show that you work well with others. People will not want to help you if they find you brash or cocky.
- Ask for a business card. This will allow you to follow up with connections and remind them of the conversation that you had and any next steps that you may have agreed upon. It is also wise to note on cards what you talked about or had in common with a person to prevent awkwardness in later conversations.
- Say ‘thank you.’ Show grace by thanking people for sharing their knowledge with you.
- Follow up. Keep in mind that the people you met also met others at the same gathering. To be sure that you aren’t forgotten, and to show sincerity, send an email or make a phone call the next day. Make certain that you deliver on any action items that you discussed: if you told someone that you would send them your resume, do so.
These are very handy at parties, happy hours, and lunches with your mom’s co-worker’s daughter, but to maximize their effectiveness in finding a job that you truly want, you should find ways to attend gatherings of people in your particular field/industry. It is common in cities to find these types of events being held year-round. You can find out when and where they are happening by joining specific professional groups on LinkedIn, social event-planning sites like Meetup, and professional associations or membership organizations (search Google using your city, your field/industry, and “professionals”). Recruiters can often be found at such events looking for people like you to hire. Taking temporary positions can also be a great way to network and form relationships with professionals within your field; show yourself to be dependable and competent and you will be top of mind should someone in that organization hear of a fitting opportunity.
For those of you who still find the prospect of entering a room full of strangers terrifying, let me leave you with these words from Ambrose Redmoon: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”