Stranger Danger:

Letting Go of Fear in the Name of Networking

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Hello, my name is Emilie, and I hate networking.

Loathe it, in fact, if you?re looking for a more expressive word.

?Networking? is a word that makes my palms sweat. My throat gets a little raspy, as though it?s trying to get me out of a conference, event, or dinner with a spontaneous case of laryngitis. As I take a sip (or three) of water, however, this is the point when I must remind you?as this networking issue of the MSEJ so aptly does?that networking is valuable. Necessary, even, in an age when jobs are often passed through friends and acquaintances before they hit the open market.

So, what is a reluctant networker to do?

I?ll tell you what we?re going to do.

We?re going to have a networking toolkit, and we?re going to use it. We?re going to go in prepared, do what we came to do, and then leave. We?ll reconvene in our pajamas, on our couches, eating takeout and thanking our lucky stars that we were brave, that we did it (and that it?s done).

What is a networking toolkit?

When I write about toolkits for the MSEJ, often I?m talking about a metaphorical toolkit?skills that you can carry with you that don?t fit in a box beneath your bed. This time, however, at least half of the items I?m recommending are concrete objects you can hold in your hands (which will give your flustered hands something to do instead of shaking).

Business Cards: This first item is a simple one, yet I?ve found myself without a card more often than I care to remember. When it comes to a business card, there are several different options out there at a variety of price points.

Keep in mind that your business card is a representation of who you are as a professional, so when you select a design, consider the message that you are sending. As someone in a creative industry, my business cards privilege good design, a clear, legible font, and a picture on the back?just in case I?m at an event where someone might remember my face better than my name when looking through cards at a later date.

Regardless of your profession, your card should always contain your first and last name, your email address, and your phone number. While it may be tempting to put your address on there, consider how often you will be moving before making that commitment. And, if you?re anything like me, it may help to have more than one business card holder. I?ve grown frustrated with the fact that I don?t have a card when I need it, so now I keep a set in my work bag, a set in my purse, and one or two in my wallet, just in case.

A Professional Voicemail: While we?re on the topic of contact information? when you give out your phone number, make sure that you have a professional voicemail at the ready to take calls when you aren?t available. Yes, your friends may love the fact that your voicemail plays ?Space Oddity? and that they can sing along with David Bowie before leaving a message; however, a company or a hiring manager might get the wrong idea (unless they have guaranteed great taste in music). Ask the caller to leave their name, number, a brief message, and remember to check your voicemail so that you can return their call in a timely manner.

A Professional Web Presence: This toolkit item comes in a variety of options depending on your target job and industry. In some cases, this just means doing a Google search of yourself, cleaning up any undesirable web mentions, and creating a professional, updated LinkedIn page.

For other industries, this may mean having a personal website with an available portfolio of your recent work and appearances in the press. Know your industry and the expectations of those you encounter at networking events. If you?re in an industry with a website or a portfolio requirement, make sure that information is available on your business card.

A Miniature Toothbrush: You laugh, but do you know how many networking events take place over a meal? Before you go around and start mingling, remember to check your teeth before flashing a smile. A smile is only a winner if it doesn?t have spinach in it. And you?ll kick yourself later trying to remember how many cards you may or may not have passed along, shining in spinach-filled glory.

  A firm handshake with good eye contact: Don?t break their hands, but don?t be a sad, limp fish. Give a handshake that is frank, honest, and that claims your presence in the conversation. Make eye contact as you do so?they?re more likely to remember your face if they can actually see it (which is difficult to do if your face is trained on their shoes).

I know, networking is a scary word for some of us. It can seem like a monster, ready to grab your ankles and take you out. But, like all monsters that lurk under the bed, it can be unmasked, and you will sleep easy again.

You just must get out there and face it, toolkit in hand.


By: Emilie Duck