Social networking for the shy and awkward.
May 4, 2004 11:16 PM   Subscribe

Tips on networking for the socially awkward?

According to something I heard on the radio, 85% of jobs available are never advertised, and most people get jobs by knowing someone who knows someone. My problem is, (currently I'm working at a job trying to gain more experience in my field), I don't know many people well, and am awkward around people I don't know well.

Any tips on handling this problem?
posted by drezdn to Human Relations (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
At least you've picked up on the important part - which is that face-to-face networking is by far the most powerful way of networking. I highly recommend the book "How To Talk To Anyone" by Leil Lowndes. It's an easily digestable introduction to a few skills you can learn by rote in order to make social situations easier.
posted by skylar at 12:19 AM on May 5, 2004

ethernet, or peer-to-peer?
posted by crunchland at 4:54 AM on May 5, 2004

The good news is, you have a job already, so you won't have that oily sheen of desperation that tends to sink all good networking attempts. Basically think of it as expanding your social circle, only with work. Say hi to people you work with. Ask mild questions like "how was your weekend?" "doing anything special for the holidays?" etc. Often a really good way to start a conversation with a work-related stranger is to ask for their advice on something they know about, and then manage to somehow start talking about something you know about. As a result, you get some information, make a contact with someone and hopefully get to make a good impression. If you establish rapports with people in your office and outside your office, when you're ready to look for work it won't seem like such a huge leap to mention that you're looking for another position, to see if they know someone, know about a job, have any advice for you. If you're not in a hurry, you can go really slowly with face-to-face networking and it becomes much less painful.

If you're more comfotable with computers, you may want to spend some time in some of the social software network spaces like, [email me if you need an invite] or These places aren't the end-all be-all for networking, but you can get used to chatting people up in a more virtual environment before you talk to people face to face.

The big thing for me with networking is to make a good first impression [try to smile and be friendly and say "hi how are you?" even if it's not necessarily natural, and try hard not to be abrasive and/or really off-putting] and then just follow it up with casual contact in whatever way is appropriate for you. This may not involve a lot of face-to-face time. You can be the guy who brings extra bagels to work, or the guy who always knows how to fix the printer, or even be the guy who always lurks in the lunchroom, but if people can fill in a sentence "Oh, he's the guy who _________" and can put something positive in that blank, they'll be more likely to remember you favorably when you ask if they know about job openings, or whatever. Plus, if you live in Milwaukee still, get some passing conversational skills in how the Brewers are doing, what people think about the new Mayor, or something or other else and then you won't feel on the spot when people talk to you and you don't necesasrily have anything to say. Networking doesn't have to suck if you think of it as just an excuse to expand your social skills generally. People who have worked in business for a long time generally think of it as part of something that they do at their job, so they don't see you trying to talk to them about work as strange or awkward, even if you might.
posted by jessamyn at 5:44 AM on May 5, 2004 [1 favorite]

Start today. I recommend opening with "Wow, how about that monkey waste, huh?"
posted by jessamyn at 5:56 AM on May 5, 2004

the way i was able to break the networking barrier (and get an amazingly cool job in the process) was pro bono work, which is abundant in the legal profession, less so in many others.

but generally, volunteering is a great way to do it. conversation is built in (you talk about the project you're doing, or the organization you're doing it for) and secondary to the activity. people meet you in a very positive light and see you regularly. carry a few business cards with you and at the end of the project, say "it was nice to meet you. give me a call next time you're doing one of these projects; we can carpool." eventually, the conversations get around to what you do for a living. plus, you'll get more comfortable talking to strangers.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:02 AM on May 5, 2004

if you're a programmer, do open source work. people download your code, ask you questions, and it creates working relationships

also, join clubs and sports and stuff. you don't sound like those are up your alley, but a buddy of mine does volleyball, and he's gotten his past couple of jobs through it. in fact, he's gotten AMAZING jobs through his volleyball contacts.

so, go to where the people are!
posted by taumeson at 8:14 AM on May 5, 2004

taumeson has a great point--an activity can make it much easier than just standing around talking. What hobbies or interests do you have, and is there a group doing it or meeting about it every week or month in your area?
posted by amberglow at 8:39 AM on May 5, 2004

Or, as a synthesis of the ideas above, find people who do your job in another company, and put together a lunch group with them. For example, I'm managing editor at a small book publisher. Once a month or so, my art director and I meet with the production teams from other small publishers. It's great because it makes me better at my job now (learning how others do it) and expands my contacts with people who do what I do. Plus, since it benefits everyone this way, it doesn't seem so weird to send the emails setting it up. Also, because it's a small group, when I do feel awkward, I can step back without worrying that all there will be is silence; that is, I avoid the burdens one-on-one conversation can bring.
posted by dame at 9:06 AM on May 5, 2004

Crunchland, ya beat me to it, although I would have asked Ethernet or Token-ring?

Here's a good page on dealing with shyness/social awkwardness.

I've gotten several jobs through networking. Looks like you're in a band. Some of the other members are likely to have friends or family who have contacts in the area you need. Start by asking your closest friends if they know anybody who has contacts in your industry. Ask your friend to pave the way by calling the contact and asking if they'd be willing to sit down with you. Set up a time, and spend no more than half an hour describing what you have to offer, and asking if they know of anyone who could help you, even if it's another similar visit. It should be clear from the start that you are job-hunting. Always send a thank you.

If nothing pans out from your closest circle of friends, then expand the circle.

This requires a lot of time, and a certain amount of willingness to ask strangers for help. Many people are are willing to help strangers, as evidenced by the success of ask.mefi. Keep repeating to yourself that you have a lot to offer, and that finding a good employee is a bonus to an employer. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 9:09 AM on May 5, 2004 [1 favorite]

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If you're single, go to Single Volunteers events. No long-term commitments, and you always have something to talk about ("Boy, who would've thought shoveling manure in July could be so much fun?!"). In my experience, most people who go to those events (in DC, at least) are young professionals, so it's a great way to meet people.

Otherwise, job fairs have been good to me. I didn't get my current job that way, but that's how I got the previous two.

My mantra at such things is "Fake it 'til you make it." You don't have to be at ease; you just have to look at ease. Eventually, you'll get so at ease with your faking that you'll actually be at ease. It's worked well for me.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:06 PM on May 5, 2004

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