By Paula Rucci Voigt, National Louis University Career Development Office
You may have heard the phrase, “Your Network Is Your Net Worth.” Noting that studies have shown that networking is the most effective way to land a job, it is evident that networking is essential to the health of your personal brand, your career, and your job search strategy.
Dictionary.com defines networking as “a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest.” Sounds simple and straightforward, right?
The very thought of networking, however, often seems to strike fear in the hearts of many of the students and alumni that I work with here at National Louis University. The thought of “putting yourself out there” can be intimidating, particularly if you are someone who prefers introversion.
I often coach students on how best to overcome this fear and make the most of an opportunity to network. One student who came to me was very averse to attending networking events because he didn’t like feeling “needy” or coming across as if he were begging for a job. He also felt that small talk felt too fake and awkward.
We tackled the problem by discussing a new way to approach a networking opportunity – by adopting a host mentality. It entails reframing the way you think about your role. Rather than behaving as a “guest” and believing you are there to gain something for yourself – a contact, information, or a job – you can view it as an opportunity to help others connect and enjoy themselves.
Becoming the “host” allows you to focus on making sure your “guests”- the other people present at the event- are having a good time and getting what they need. Hosts go out of their way to introduce others and make them aware of what they might have in common. Their goal is to help create connections between their guests in an effort to make them more comfortable.
By asking open-ended, probing questions and actively listening to each person’s story, you’ll be able to engage someone in an interesting conversation more effectively. This will enable you to get a good sense of what their needs are, which will help you to help them make more relevant connections with others. You’ll learn about the future goals of their business and be better equipped to engage in meaningful discussion about the issues that mean most to them. By showing your interest in their concerns, you’ll make a stronger impact and people will be more likely to remember you. And best of all, this takes the pressure and focus off of you.
Here are some examples of open-ended questions to use when engaging with others in your network:
- How did you get into this field?
- What skills have you found essential for success in this occupation?
- What separates you from the competition?
- Could you tell me about one of the main challenges you face in this position/industry?
- What was the strangest or funniest incident you’ve experienced in your business?
- What are some newer trends in your profession?
- What would make someone an ideal employee for your company or organization?
- What inspires you?
By following this fresh “host” perspective, you’ll learn exactly what gaps exist for a potential employer and what they are searching for. This will then present a perfectly natural opportunity to point out how your skills can fulfill those needs. This is the key that will turn an ordinary networking conversation into a “win-win”!
So if the thought of walking into a networking event makes you want to hide in the corner or worse, run for the hills… think about switching up your attitude to one of a host, rather than a guest. It may be just what you need to get over your fear and make that event work for you.