By the way, like the first article, this one largely focuses on networking events as they relate to job seekers. But most all of the ideas I share can be adapted to any networking event, no matter what you hope to accomplish.
First a quick story. As a volunteer career coach for many years, I’ve worked with some people who were even more horrified by the idea of attending networking events than I used to be. I want to share the story of Jackie, since it captures the basic idea behind the techniques I’m about to share, and because it worked tremendously.
Jackie was an outplacement client. When I first told Jackie about an upcoming networking event (actually, a career fair) she looked horrified. So I gave her a homework assignment. I told her that she wasn’t going to the event as a job seeker. She wasn’t going to network. In fact, she didn’t necessarily have to talk to anyone. She was going as an investigative journalist, with the following assignment. I told her that “most of the job seekers at these events are making 3 fundamental mistakes.” (I pulled that “fact” out of thin air, but Jackie proved it’s true!) And I told her to come back and tell me what the three mistakes were. I could see from the look on her face that this was a far more palatable idea than “networking.” As we discussed it, she even started to get excited about the idea. Here are the three excellent observations Jackie came back with:
- Most job seekers stand in long lines, and when they finally get to the front, they offer a cold handshake, hand their resume to the recruiter and flee. In contrast, the smart ones look for the employers with empty booths, and go strike up an actual conversation.
- Job seekers typically came to the fair because they were interested in one or two specific employers. So most job seekers only visit those booths. What a waste! They got all dressed up (hopefully) and drove across town … and didn’t bother to at least check out the other employers to see what opportunities they had available?
- They don’t talk to the other job seekers. (This was her most valuable insight.) Here they are, surrounded by people who may well know of the perfect job opportunity -- they are job seekers, that's the #1 thing on their radar -- and they can’t even be bothered to talk to each other?
This is the common theme of most of the ideas in this article: mind games you can play with yourself to overcome shyness or social insecurities, making networking events fun (or at least bearable).
After the above example with Jackie, I created and shared similar games with other job seekers. Three examples:
- Private investigator. Someone at that event knows about the perfect job for you, but isn’t even even aware that they are harboring that valuable knowledge. It’s your job to uncover it by chatting with them, without blowing your cover.
- Recruiter. I used this one myself ... in fact, it's where I first discovered how much I love recruiting. Deep in job hunt mode, I was well aware of a lot of job opportunities. It occurred to me, maybe I could help someone else at the event. (Maybe I could even get a referral bonus!) Striking up conversations (my opener: "I'm actually here as a recruiter -- tell me, what are you looking for?"), focusing on other people (and the jobs they were looking for, plus their hopes and fears) ... my ego wasn't on the line.
- Alien. (I tried this one with someone who was especially uncomfortable with the idea of talking to strangers). The mothership meant to drop you at a local state park, but accidentally inserted you into a job fair. Your job is to pass as a normal human job seeker -- however you do that -- for at least an hour.
This led to an even better idea. One I took to its logical extreme -- with excellent results.
Behind the shyness, and the fear of striking up conversations with strangers, is typically the fear of rejection. For me, the following idea almost entirely eliminated that fear. Simply, I pretended I worked at the event, as a volunteer. My job was to wander around and if I saw anyone who looked lost or terrified, to act as an ambassador. “You look lost -- can I help you find something?" Or, “these events can be overwhelming. Tell me what kind of job you are looking for, maybe I can point you in the right direction.”
If people weren’t responsive or friendly, it didn’t bother me … it wasn’t anything personal -- I was just there as a volunteer. If they didn’t want my help, oh well.
Maybe you can guess where I took this idea. One day I thought ... why just pretend to be a volunteer? Why not … actually volunteer?
I looked up some upcoming job fairs and called the organizers to volunteer. They were more than happy to sign me up! Check out the perks/advantages I discovered the first time I volunteered for one of these events:
- Working the registration desk, I not only met the employers/recruiters and learned their names right away, I also got to meet many of the job seekers. (I was single at the time...)
- Wearing a prominent “Volunteer” nametag, I had the perfect excuse to walk up to anyone there and strike up a conversation, in many cases with people I already briefly met when they registered. It was no longer a mind game, my special status was now reality.
- The organizer hosted a special lunch for the employers who had paid to attend. Guess who else got invited? I got to chat one-on-one with every employer there -- as a peer.
- The organizer was really grateful, and expressed that with an unexpected gift card … plus a list of all of the employers who had signed up (even the ones who didn’t show) complete with all their contact information.