Whether it’s a career fair, recruiting event, or one-on-one conversation, networking can be a drag. For many, it’s the most harrowing part of the job search, an intimidating social ritual quickly performed and then avoided.
Elatia Abate, AB’99, MBA’08, knows how hard it can be to put yourself out there. A self-professed introvert, she’s had to overcome her “preferred, natural state of being” to achieve professional success as a career coach. With plenty of practice along the way—she’s had “800 different kinds of jobs”—networking has become second nature to her.
“If you want to create opportunities, if you want to create the kind of success and impact that I know students who are coming from UChicago do, it almost doesn’t matter that you’re an introvert,” Abate says. “What matters is who you need to be to get a job done.”
So here are three tips to getting that job done.
Don’t hide behind technology.
“Thanks to technology,” Abate says, “people’s perception of what networking is and how networking should be has changed.” She notes that many use text messages and emails in place of face-to-face interactions.
“But an email conversation is not the same thing as a personal connection,” she stresses. Only use these platforms to help create the real networking opportunities.
Practice before you get there.
Strike up conversations with people when you’re walking down the street, at the gas station, or in your local cafe. Go into a coffee shop and ask the barista, “How’s your day going? What’s going on here? Anything new today?”
“If it’s awkward at the coffee shop, you never have to go back,” Abate says. But you can work out the kinks in your conversation before entering a situation where your words may have a greater impact.
Just remember not to overthink it—you don’t have to be perfectly articulate and poised 100 percent of the time. Networking “really is just practicing being in conversation,” Abate reiterates.
Go in with a mindset of curiosity.
Think of it as a classroom. When you change your mindset, Abate says, “It’s not like you’re learning a skill that’s so foreign after all.” You’re simply asking intelligent questions and exploring a new intellectual realm.
Do your research before going to a large networking or recruiting event. When you get there, make your presence known by walking up to the representatives from the companies you’re interested in. “Wait until there’s a point in the conversation where you’ve got a really good question,” Abate advises. Always look for opportunities to chime in with a “Hey, that’s interesting. It’s funny that you say that,” or “I’m so curious about x.”
Networking shouldn’t be about getting something from others, or taking up their time. “If you assume that all of us are adults and we’re capable of managing our own calendars,” Abate says, “no one is going to say yes to talk to you who doesn’t have the time to do it.”
The key to networking, Abate believes, is accepting that it’s a process of discovery: “Let your curiosity naturally take you.”