Overcoming my Fear of Networking

Several stick figures branching off from one central stick figure so that they look like a web
This could be me one day. Photo by Peggy Margo via Pixabay
Networking makes me uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. So uncomfortable that I try to do it as infrequently as possible. That’s why I decided to attend the Career Centre’s Talking to Professionals workshop to learn more about how to network, and how to become more comfortable doing so. Since networking can sometimes be just as important in finding a job as your actual resume, I decided that it was time to overcome my fear. The workshop started off with a study that examined how networking can sometimes make people feel dirty and selfish. The fact that networking made others uncomfortable too didn’t surprise me; I think I grew into disliking networking because my friends and peers always expressed how sleazy it made them feel. The workshop then launched into a bunch of tips aimed at—hopefully—changing how we looked at networking. First, we mapped out a “networking constellation,” that connected all of our current contacts to professionals we want to connect with in the future. There’s a belief that everyone is connected by fewer steps or less. I “reached” all of the people I want to connect with in the future in fewer than three.
Networking constellation. Photo via Lyon College
Networking constellation. Photo via Lyon College
We then discussed resources for finding professionals to network with and for finding helpful information, like LinkedIn, Ten Thousand Coffees, the Career Learning Network (CLN), and Career Cruising. In my experience, LinkedIn in a great tool for keeping in touch with old colleagues, and a good motivator for updating your resume. It’s also a helpful way to meet other professionals in your circle (LinkedIn suggests people for you to connect with, and even labels them as a first, second, or third connections). By browsing other professionals’ LinkedIn profiles, you can see what their career pathway looked like. If they’re from U of T, you can also get a glimpse into what you can do with your U of T degree. I’ve made some strong connections on LinkedIn, and I’ve always valued seeing what my peers’ career pathways looked like. Ten Thousand Coffees is a network for connecting with other professionals for informational interviews, relaxed conversations with other professionals. U of T’s hub with Ten Thousand Coffees is set to launch in the new year, which will be a great resource for connecting with professionals in the U of T community. After we learned what resources were available for connecting with professionals and setting up informational interviews, we crafted short biographies for introducing ourselves to professionals. These short personal introductions are also called “elevator pitches,” thirty second introductions of yourself that can be done in the time span of an elevator ride. Some key things to mention about yourself are your:
  • Education
  • Experiences (volunteer, work, placement, etc.)
  • Your goals
  • What you want to get out of your informational interview
During the workshop, we then had to craft our own personal introductions. Since our personal introductions were written, it felt a bit stiff to say them out loud during the exercise. Personal introductions take time to perfect, so hopefully mine will sound more fluid in the future. During the actual informational interview, you should ask professionals in your industry about their career path and training, current position and responsibilities, career advice, and their working conditions. However, you should never ask about salary, or ask for a job—information interviews are all about learning about the professional, their experiences and their job, and their insights and opinions. The workshop certainly didn’t cure my fear of networking, but it did provide me with useful resources and advice to seek out professionals and conduct informational interviews—even if it does still terrify me a little. Over the winter break, I'll put my new informational interviewing skills to the test by interviewing someone established in their career. Wish me luck!

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