For many people, introducing one’s self to a complete stranger is a very painful experience.  Believe me, I know!  It’s much easier for me to address a room full of people (strangers or not), than to introduce myself to someone I don’t know!!  But to overcome my discomfort talking with strangers took commitment and determination.  It’s still not my favorite endeavor, but I have become proficient at introducing myself and asking questions of strangers.
Shyness, social phobias, whatever the reason, it’s a difficult situation, whether the networking is strictly social or professional in your motivation.  Complicate the proceedings with concerns of your being self-serving, or not caring “what’s in it for them?”, and the situation might easily be intimidating.   But as difficult as it can be for some, for others networking is as natural as breathing.
If networking doesn’t come naturally to you, I encourage you to practice to improve on your ability to self promote yourself.  Self-promotion has been elevated to an art, and to be successful in business – job seeker or employer – one must become comfortable talking about her/himself in a variety of situations.
Get together with a few of your friends and make a game out of it.  Take turns introducing yourself as if you were strangers meeting for the first time. Your introductions should include your name, something about what you do, and state the kind of work you are looking for.  You should also include a question about what or whom is known by the person you are speaking with.
Here’s an example:  “Excuse me.  My name is Kathy Smith and I’m a medical encoder looking for work in a growing medical practice.  Can you refer me to a doctor’s office or hospital?”  In this example, the information being sought isn’t overly specific.  Nearly everyone knows the name of a doctor or the local hospital, so Kathy should receive some basic detail from nearly everyone she speaks to.
Another example:  “As an architect and home designer, I”m always asking people their opinions on new buildings and their designs.  Have you seen any new residential construction that looks particularly interesting? My name is Steve.  Here’s my card; I’d appreciate hearing from you if you can think of some place of interest worth checking out, or if you need design work on your own property.”
There are so many ways to approach others, its almost impossible to get networking totally wrong.  Whatever your career aspirations, where ever you go – any event except a funeral – you should be able instigate a verbal give-and-take, and ask strangers questions that evoke answers that provide usable information.
On a daily basis, we have ample opportunities to practice networking, and sometimes they are more common than we realize.  The easiest place to start is with the people with whom you regularly do business.  The checkers at your local grocery store, bank, post office, or almost anyone providing retail services provide opportunities to introduce yourself and start a conversation.  In situations like these, you can practice brevity and succinct communication because retail folks don’t usually have time to linger with you for an extended period.
If you’re in school, Instructors and fellow students can provide myriad opportunities to practice introductions, goal and objective statements.  In an educational environment, it can be a bit less intimidating because – even if you don’t really know these people – you see them nearly every day. Unknown, yet familiar, this gives you some common ground from which to approach someone and start a conversation.
When a friend relocated to the Boston area a while back, she was staying in the suburbs and commuting to downtown daily on temp job assignments while looking for a more permanent gig.  She made it a part of her daily routine to carefully observe the other folks who rode the train at the same time she did every day.  After a few days, she started introducing herself to men and women who, like herself, were professionally dressed, and whom she identified as most likely to be working in the Financial) District downtown crossing near South Station.
Her spiel went something like this:
“Hi. Excuse me, but I’m new to the area.  Can you please tell me the names of some of the areas’ better employers?   My name is Helen and I’m a corporate event planner.  I had no trouble finding some temp work through a recruiter, but I’d like to work for an outstanding company with a great reputation.”
Delivered with a professional, straight serious-yet-friendly attitude, Helen found that most people were interested in sharing their thoughts and often responded with genuine opinions.  Many offered useful information, and a few folks solicited her resume, while others provided introductions and referrals.
Within a few weeks, Helen landed a secure long-term gig through one of her new contacts, and also made a bunch of new business acquaintances.  Now that’s what I call social networking!  You can’t build that kind of rapport online!
It doesn’t matter if your interaction is on public transportation, at a social event like a wedding or fundraiser, or at the local watering hole.  Have business cards with you at all times, or at the very least carry a small note pad and pen to give others your contact info, or collect the same from others.  Heck, enter their info directly into your cell phone!
If you put yourself in close proximity to other professionals, it’s pretty likely you’ll meet at least a few friendly people who are willing to share what they know, and are willing to listen to / learn from you.  You just can’t be afraid to ask questions, be sincere, intelligent and respectful.  You’ll be amazed at the rich returns of your networking efforts.
Don’t forget to say “hi” for me!  😉
To learn how to create better personal introductions for your job search and career success, please visit:  hanklondon.com

By Hank

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