Successful Networking Skills: A Guide for the Very Nervous

Most recruiters know that networking is a great way to meet new people and generate new candidates. With the face of recruiting changing and the number of networking events on the rise, understanding how to network in person as opposed to just on the phone is another tool that can be of great value. Besides, much networking takes place even at events that are not designed solely for the purpose of networking, such as corporate trainings, parties, social events, symposiums, conferences, etc. People attend networking event for all different reasons. They attend to find jobs, find consulting assignments, find candidates, find people to talk with, find information, or find mates. Sometimes they go just to get out of the house. Most people however, go to networking events with a specific purpose in mind. If you are looking to achieve success in your mission at the event, you must become a successful at networking. How successful you are depends upon how well you play the game ó how easily you can move from person to person and feel comfortable doing it. Successful networking is like watching tennis on television. It looks easy until you try it yourself. For some people, networking holds all of the appeal of going to get a root canal. It fills so many of us with fear, anxiety, and angst because we are stepping out of our comfort zone. We do not know what to do, what to say, and how to behave. With this truth firmly in mind. and armed with the understanding that action conquers fear, the question is simple: “Where do I begin?” The answer is also simple. You research the event, pre-register if it seems to be applicable, bring a friend as a safety if you feel more comfortable, put on a big smile, and dive into the crowd. I suggest that you leave your fear of rejection home. Everyone is there to meet others, so the idea of rejection really should not come into play. Understand that networking is a farming event; a friendly and safe place to meet, greet, make new contacts, and exchange information. (For the very timid among you, Susan Roane has done a number of books and tapes on networking and methodologies for working a room. They are wonderful and can be found on Amazon.) One last thing before we get into networking. Many recruiters are gregarious and outgoing on the phone, but not all that good in a room full of strangers. This is not a criticism, because going to a place where no one knows you is no easy thing. It may be a bit unnatural for you; but after a while, things do change, and believe it or not, it will become easier. It may never be fun, but I promise, it will become easier. With the explanations and preliminaries out of the way, here is what I call the “short course” on networking. If you take this information to heart, use it and make a real effort at the networking events, the results just might surprise you:

  • Bring business cards. This might seem obvious, but the number of people who do not bring business cards to these events is shocking.
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  • If a nametag is provided, put it on your right side. You shake hands using your right hand and it brings the tag into closer view to the person you are meeting.
  • Arrive on time. Fashionably late is for designers and fashion models that go to strange parties in the Hamptons wearing unusual clothing. Arriving on time takes away a bit of the stress of the event; you are not walking into a large room teeming with people. It allows you to get a feel for the room and perhaps get a bite of food before things get too busy.
  • Bring a networking buddy who is in another line of work, if possible. This will ease the stress of going alone; there is strength in numbers. One warning: Do not spend the entire night hanging around with your buddy. It defeats the purpose of the event.
  • Have a secret signal that your buddy will recognize. For example, if you are in trouble because someone won’t let you out of a conversation, tug at your right earlobe and your friend will know that you need help and to come over and politely pull you out of the conversation in which you are currently engaged. Example: “John, I’ve been looking for you all night. There is someone that you must meet. Can I borrow you for a few minutes?” The great escape has been completed and the other party will soon find someone else to whom they can attach themselves for conversation.
  • Go to events other than events for people who do what you do. For example, if you sold BMWs, it would make no sense to go to a networking event for people who sell cars. It would, however, make sense to go to an event of marketing executives; they might buy an auto some day.
  • Be first to introduce yourself to others. If you wait for people to approach you, you might spend the evening in the corner eating those cocktail franks, watching you cholesterol rise.
  • Develop an elevator speech; thirty or forty seconds at the most. When asked, I tell people I am a writer, consultant, and public speaker who works with organizations to support growth in different areas. If they want more, I answer their questions, but I never give them a 30-minute lecture. Neither should you.
  • Ask the other person what they do first. It eases you into the relationship and sets a tone of genuine interest they will appreciate.
  • Do not spend more than 10 to 12 minutes with each person. The best way to extricate yourself from a conversation is to say something like, “I am so glad we had a chance to talk. I see a friend across the room and if I don’t talk to him, he might cry.” (A little humor always helps.) Shake hands, look them in the eye, smile, and move on.
  • You can chat about things other than your vocation. I, for one, am a fanatic motorcyclist, and this has generated more interest than the new book I just wrote or the ties I am famous for wearing. Remember, relationships are more important than trying to tell everyone in the room what you do.
  • The world is broken into two types of people, guests and hosts. Guests like to be taken care of and hosts like to take care of others. Be a host. It is a proactive role that will make the event more successful. If you see a wine glass empty, grab a bottle and offer to fill it. If you just spoke with two people who you think should meet, make the introduction. You will be remembered for the role you play as much as for the person that you are.
  • Never sell at a networking event. It is not for that purpose and will make others feel uncomfortable.
  • Never promise to call someone and not follow through. It is a small world, and what goes around comes around.
  • In the event someone snubs you, that is okay. It is their loss and it usually happens because they are unprepared, insecure, and very nervous. Nothing personal. They don’t know you.
  • If you are in the midst of a conversation and someone is waiting politely at the side for the right moment to introduce himself, acknowledge him and have him join the conversation. This is a meet-and-greet event, so the more the merrier.
  • Always bring your best manners and your best people skills. You will need them.

With this information in mind and a stiff drink before the event (only one), you are probably off to a better time than you suspect, and you can anticipate good results if you keep up the good work. As an aside, one event per week is fine but two is even better. Attending networking events leads to expanding your own network, and this can only help you when the time comes to pick up the phone and get the help, advice, support or introduction that you need.

Howard Adamsky has been recruiting since 1985 and is still alive to talk about it. A consultant, writer, public speaker, and educator, he works with organizations to support their efforts to build great companies and coaches others on how to do the same. He has over 20 years' experience in identifying, developing, and implementing effective solutions for organizations struggling to recruit and retain top talent. An internationally published author, he is a regular contributor to ERE Media, a member of the Human Capital Institute's Small and Mid-Sized business panel, a Certified Internet Recruiter, and rides one of the largest production motorcycles ever built. His book, Hiring and Retaining Top IT Professionals/The Guide for Savvy Hiring Managers and Job Hunters Alike (Osborne McGraw-Hill) is in local bookstores and available online. He is also working on his second book, The 25 New Rules for Today's Recruiting Professional. See if you are so inclined for the occasional tweet. Email him at


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