The Guide to Networking as a Socially Anxious Collegiate

Upon my arrival to Clark Atlanta University, I quickly realized that being a socialite would get you far in life. I also realized that I wasn’t one of those people. As a stuttering, uncontrollably laughing freshman, I would become overwhelmed in the slightest of public affairs. Whether I would be in the cafeteria or walking on the promenade, I would become ridiculously nervous. I believe my nervousness stemmed from overthinking, but many people suffer from social anxiety. Social anxiety is the fear of interaction with other people that brings on self-consciousness, feelings of being negatively judged and evaluated, and, as a result, leads to avoidance.

Around the middle of the semester the true test of time would occur: the semi annual career fair. Now, this might not seem like that big of a deal, but I would be surrounded by plenty of upperclassman that were way more prepared for corporate interactions than me. I would have to speak to numerous strangers and this was just a bit too much for me to handle. I dressed in my black skirt suit and made the long, dreadful walk to the multipurpose room where the fair would be held. I walked up to the first table and introduced myself. After a brief description of the organization from those sitting at the table, I realized my mistake. I’d walked up to an educational studies internship booth, and felt like an idiot. I left the fair and returned to my solitude in my dorm room. I took plenty of deep breaths and refused to attend the fair ever again, which I didn’t until my junior year.

As a business student, it is mandatory to interact with plenty of strangers. Business cards are exchanged and small talk is conducted. This is called networking. Networking, my least favorite word, is something I’m still not a fan of. I would like to help those who feel just as uncomfortable in corporate or public settings such as the career fair, where we are expected to brand ourselves and somehow leave an interesting first impression.

My first tip would be to prepare yourself beforehand. If you’re attending a career fair, do a bit of research on the companies that will be in attendance. Practice your pitch, which is what you will be saying when you approach a booth. How about saying something like “Hi, I’m XYZ, could you tell me a bit about your company?” This will lead to a bit of back and forth and eventually you can follow up with “Are there any internship opportunities available?” BOOM, you might have just landed yourself an interview!

Next up, you’re attending a small luncheon or mixer. As an awkward black girl, I run far, far away from these sort of events. Instead of running, I would suggest building up the courage to attend, even if it’s only for five minutes. You went, you introduced yourself, and you left. That was still a HUGE step. An even bigger step would be to get to know the other lunch goers. Asking a few questions like “What’s it like working for XYZ company?” or “How was your experience at XYZ University?” Now you’ve got it. You’re networking!

Finally, I would like to give a few tips on staying relaxed and in control while networking. I know it might feel like your chest is going to explode or you just want to roll into a ball, but fighting through the uncomfortable, restless feelings you might be having will only lead to your growth. Continuing to lock yourself in your room where you’re safe and no one can interact with you will only lead to more solitude and less development. Step out of your comfort zone. Attend events alone, put your phone down and take some deep breaths. Place yourself in that room and remember that you are grounded. Look at your surroundings and realize that the world is not going to come crashing down on you.  Becoming uncomfortable is the only way you will grow. Prepare and prepare again and do not beat yourself up if you’re not ready. If you feel like you’ve failed because you left an event early, realize that you’ve grown and you are still growing. You can’t force yourself to grow before you’re ready. It’s all a learning process and nothing happens overnight.

Photo Credit: Girl Much