In a competitive job market, networking is power. Having the right connections is a key aspect of career advancement and professional growth. It can even lead to your next job opportunity. A recent study reported that 85% of jobs are filled thanks to networking. For some, it’s easy to strike up a conversation with a potential connection. But for others, it can lead to stress that feels like a giant roadblock to your success. If you relate to the latter, you may be experiencing networking anxiety.
What is networking anxiety?
Networking anxiety is a fear of social interactions in a professional setting. This can involve nervousness regarding meeting new people or engaging in small talk. Both mental and physical symptoms can arise from networking anxiety, from sweaty palms and an elevated heart rate to self-consciousness and fear of judgment. Experiencing networking anxiety is normal, especially in new or unfamiliar situations.
Whether you’re dreading your upcoming networking event or struggling to hit “send” on a LinkedIn message, these tips are for you.
1. Shift your mindset.
You may currently see networking as superficial conversations and shameless self-promotions. Having this negative belief is setting yourself up for a bad experience because of preconceived thoughts. Instead, adopt a positive way of thinking towards networking. Begin viewing networking events as a chance to expand your knowledge about various career paths. Focus on forming genuine connections and approach every conversation with an open mind.
2. Prepare in advance.
Before you attend an event, research who will be there and what topics will be discussed. Set intentions about who you want to meet, what you want to know about them, and what you want to share with them. There’s no shame in drafting a set of questions or talking points to reduce stress. Visualize how interactions may go to ease your nerves about the unknown.
3. Set specific goals.
Creating a networking goal can help you hold yourself accountable and give you a sense of accomplishment once you achieve it. If you are early in your career, it’s okay to start small. Your goal can revolve around how many people you want to meet or simply learning something new about someone else. For example, a realistic networking goal could be to talk to three new people at your next event.
4. Practice active listening.
You may find the root of your anxiety is talking to another person. Listening can have the same—if not stronger—result during a conversation. Showing that you are actively listening to a person makes them more engaged and can help the interaction flow more naturally. Actions like eye contact, nodding, and minor interjections show your interest in what the other person is saying. These moments can also be a chance to regain composure if you’re experiencing anxious feelings.
5. Talk about topics outside of work.
While networking is about building your professional network, it doesn’t mean you have to always engage in “work talk”. Discussing similar interests can make you more memorable and can lead to a more genuine connection. If the person you are talking to graduated from the same university as you, consider making it a talking point. This isn’t an excuse to stray away from professionalism, though. Make sure your chosen topics are still work-appropriate.
6. Keep practicing!
Remember that almost everyone you’re networking with has felt the same uneasiness at some point in their career. The more you network, the more natural it will become to pick up a conversation with a new connection. Overcoming networking anxiety is achievable with some patience. Stepping outside of your comfort zone may be scary, but it is one of the best ways to grow both personally and professionally.