A Shy Girl’s Guide to Networking

In today’s job market, the saying often goes, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Beyond a resume and cover letter, networking is a useful skill that can greatly affect your job search. According to a study by The Adler Group, 58 percent of candidates looking for jobs landed a position through an internal move or networking. Essentially, networking is all about talking to people.

Even if you’re the most outgoing person in the world, networking with potential employers and professional connections can be intimidating. And if you’re more introverted, networking might seem like your worst nightmare. But have no fear, reserved collegiettes! HC asked the experts and came up with networking tips specially tailored to those of us on the shy side.

Send a LinkedIn InMail

One great networking tool for all collegiettes is LinkedIn. Beyond being able to create a professional profile and search for job opportunities, you can also expand your digital social network. This is a particularly great first step for shy collegiettes to get their feet wet in the networking world because it’s all online.

According to Lesley Mitler, president of Priority Candidates, a career-coaching service for college students and recent grads, learning how to use LinkedIn can help collegiettes network better overall. “Connect with friends, family, past employers, high school colleagues and professors,” Mitler suggests. “You can even connect with alums through InMail.”

The majority of interactions on LinkedIn are via InMail, the messaging component of the website. For shy collegiettes, you may feel more comfortable initially interacting with alumni or potential employers from your school in the form of a written message. You can introduce yourself, explain your career goals and ask for their advice about a particular field or what they did to find jobs after graduation. This can get the conversation going so if you ever do meet one of these people in person, you’ll have an established connection, which can calm your nerves.

Want to contact an alumnus and don’t know what to say? First, start with a greeting such as, “Hi [alumni name]” and introduce yourself. It can be as simple as this:

“I’m a current student at [school] and I came across your profile. I’m graduating in [year] with a major in [blank], and I was wondering if you would be willing to give me some advice on [entering the work world/specifics about an industry/the job search]. I would really appreciate it!”

Then, provide your contact information, such as your phone number or an additional email address. Alumni tend to love helping other alumni, so a personal message can help you make those helpful connections!

Practice with friends or family

The best way to deal with your networking anxiety is to practice a lot! For shy collegiettes, the idea of small talk can be uncomfortable and awkward. But if you practice with people you’re comfortable with, you’ll feel more confident with strangers.

“Start by speaking with and connecting with people that you already know—family, friends, people you’ve worked with or for, and professors,” Mitler says. “It will give you experience with the networking process and hopefully build confidence.”

Your uncle who works for an advertising firm? Ask him what his favorite part of his job is at your next family gathering. Call your cousin who just got a job as an interior designer and ask if you can pick her brain. Or reconnect with that fellow intern from your internship last summer and ask about her future plans. The more you have these kinds of conversations, the better you’ll feel about initiating them in the future.

Beyond family and friends, internship bosses or mentors can be great people to help you practice networking. Erin Crabtree, a senior at Belmont University, says her mentor is the source of her networking success.

“I was very introverted when I began my first internship, which required me to network at parties with complete strangers,” Erin says. “[But] I had a fabulous mentor right beside me the whole time who guided me through it and taught me exactly how to connect with people.”

Your boss or mentor definitely has a ton of networking experience, so don’t be afraid to ask him or her questions or get suggestions for how to improve your own networking skills!

Improve your phone skills

Mitler also encourages shy collegiettes to get comfortable speaking on the phone. “Since many introductions will start with a phone conversation, it is important to be able to communicate clearly and enthusiastically over the phone,” Mitler says. “It’s a skill that many students, particularly those who are more reserved, are not as good at. [Practice] speaking on the phone and get comfortable with that form of communication.”

Veronica Burnett, a senior at Villanova University, says she became more comfortable talking on the phone through her internship. “I used to really hate talking on the phone [with strangers] because I just felt so awkward,” Veronica says. “But my internship required me to interview sources to write web articles, so I kind of had to just do it! I would write notes of questions or important things I [knew] I wanted to say, and after doing it a few times, I became much more comfortable.”

So instead of shooting your mom a text the next time you want to update her on your life, give her a call instead. Make sure you speak slowly and clearly, because these are techniques that can help you if you ever have to tell a potential employer about yourself over the phone. Plus, your mom will appreciate hearing about your day!

Take a public-speaking class

Most schools offer a public-speaking course, considering it’s an important skill for almost every major.  Even some of the most extroverted collegiettes don’t particularly like public speaking, so for those of us who are more introverted, public speaking is our worst nightmare. However, by taking a class, you can learn different techniques to decrease nervousness and effectively convey a message; these are two things that can be applied to networking situations.

Milter highly encourages reserved collegiettes take a public-speaking course to further build confidence. While networking is more one-on-one interaction versus speaking to a large group, applying public-speaking techniques to a networking conversation can keep you calm. Plus, if you can master your fear of speaking in front of a classroom of people, networking with one or two people will seem like a breeze.

“I actually had to take a public-speaking class for my major,” Veronica says. “I wasn’t thrilled to because I get so nervous public speaking, but my professor focused on ways to decrease anxiety in the beginning of a speech [when you’re most nervous]. She even taught us breathing techniques. I got so much better and felt awesome by the end of the semester!”

Check your course catalogue or talk to your academic adviser to find out more about these kinds of classes and when they’re offered. You’ll get over your fear of public speaking before you know it!

Do some research

So there’s a big career fair or networking event happening at your school that everyone is going to. While part of you wants to run and completely avoid a room full of strangers, preparing beforehand will make you feel more confident when you get there.

Career fairs or networking events will often publish what companies or employers will be attending, so it’s in your best interest to do some research before going. If you know a little bit about an organization before talking to an employer or recruiter, you’ll feel more confident in starting a conversation.

“Make sure you do your homework beforehand…be aware if there are any jobs posted in their organization that might be a fit for your background, skills or experience,” Mitler says.

By becoming familiar with the company, their values and possible opportunities, you’ll have a basis for conversation and questions. Check out a company’s website or look them up on LinkedIn. If you know a little bit about them, they’ll be interested in getting to know you!

Related: The Lazy Girl's Guide to Networking 

Come up with a personal statement or elevator pitch

One of the most basic networking small-talk topics is telling someone about yourself. While this may seem like an easy conversation starter, when put on the spot, you might not know where to start! By thinking about it beforehand, you can avoid that awkward moment when you can only tell the person your name because of nerves.

“Compose a personal mission statement to articulate what you are about [and] your skills and goals,” Mitler suggests. “It’s far more effective than repeating what they can read on your resume. It is a great way to tell your story.”

Think about what type of job you want, why you want to be in a certain industry or a story from a previous internship or campus club that you think exemplifies you as a potential employee. You have a lot to offer, so never be afraid of sharing that!

In one of her classes, Iris Goldsztajn, a junior at University of California, Los Angeles, found that expressing her interests helped her make a connection. “The professor brought in amazing speakers every week, and I told one of them (a TV show director) that I wanted to write for a magazine, and he immediately [put me in touch with] his friend, a contributor to a big-name magazine,” Iris says. “The only courage I had to employ was to follow up with him after class and send an email reminder. I learned that networking isn’t as daunting as it sounds! It’s actually more natural and organic than you think.”

Also, it’s important to remember that networking is a two-way street, so show some interest in the people you’re talking to! Ask them about themselves, how they got started and their favorite parts about their careers. You can even ask them advice on how you should go about the job search. Prepare a list of these kinds of potential questions to avoid lulls in the conversation; that way, you can feel confident you can keep the conversation going no matter what!

Networking can seem scary to any collegiette looking for a job or internship, particularly for those of us who are not the most outgoing. If you’re more on the reserved side, don’t shy away from networking! Just keep these tips in mind, and you’ll feel confident in your connection-building skills in no time.

About The Author

Kasia (pronounced "Kasha") recently graduated from Villanova University where she studied Communication. She's a self-proclaimed Pinterest enthusiast, aspiring writer, avid reader, and constant smiler. Besides writing for HC, you can find her practicing yoga or curling up with a book at a coffee shop. She plans to pursue a career in public relations or journalism, where she can live in a city and decorate her own apartment. Follow her on Twitter or check out her blog!