Networking. The word that sends a chill through even the most social of us.
Just out of college and at the beginning of my job search, I scoffed at the idea of networking. Why do I have to go talk to people I don’t know to hopefully get a job? Can’t I just get a job on my own merits - education and experience? I naively thought that an education in the music industry and a three-month internship would land me the perfect foot in the door job, but I learned that it wasn’t enough. After 7 years of working part-time and full-time jobs unrelated to music, I realized I needed to not only be in a major city but that I needed to be involved in something that would allow me to meet people in the industry. I was accepted to a Master’s program in Music Industry Administration and moved to California shortly there after.
It's Not Just What You Know
Preparing for my imminent move, I revised my resume to include the graduate program and applied for jobs like crazy. Lo and behold, I received a call from a music company to schedule a Skype interview.
Do you want to know what prompted that call, subsequent interview, and the job offer I received? Networking.
Now I didn’t exactly go and walk around a room talking to strangers, but there was a connection that helped me get my foot in the door: the director of my Master’s program was the Chief Marketing Officer at the company, and the hiring manager had an eagle eye when it came to seeing that program on resumes. That was a wakeup call for me. I was hired in the music industry because of a connection. And that’s how a lot of jobs in this industry work - it’s not what you know, it’s who you know (I still loathe that phrase).
As scary as networking was (and still is) for me, I knew that if I wanted to further my career in the industry, I absolutely had to start networking. I had to get to know people at my current job, attend networking events hosted by the university, connect with guest speakers in our class, and put myself out there.
I. Was. Terrified.
Shortly after college, I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder. I'm sure you can imagine how I not only feel about networking, but socializing with new people in general. I knew that I had to manage my anxiety if I wanted to further my career, so I came up with techniques to help manage my anxiety in the comfort of my own space, and then applied those techniques in social interactions and at networking events. It ranged from repeating mantras to myself - "It's not life or death" or "Everything will be okay, it will all work out" - to taking a deep breath, closing my eyes, picturing the ideal end result of the interaction, and letting the fear wash away.
"If you want to live a life you've never lived, you have to do things you've never done." -Jen Sincero, You Are a Badass
I remember the first few networking events I attended after moving to California. It was after a speaker series at the university, and I'm pretty sure I talked to just one of the speakers. I thanked him for coming and then stood there and nodded while my classmates continued the conversation. But just showing up and finding the courage to thank the speaker was a step in the right direction, and each subsequent networking event became a bit easier until I could walk up to a speaker and initiate a full conversation.
If you're like me and networking terrifies the living daylights out of you, start slow like I did. Go to an event, and even if you sit in the last row in the corner of the room, you've attended. Keep attending. Talk to the person in the seat next to you, talk to the person in front of you and in back of you. You'll not only slowly start to gain more confidence, but the energy of the people in the room will get you excited about the topic, about being an artist or an entrepreneur, and soon enough you'll find yourself standing up to ask a question or walking up to the speaker at the end of the event.
“The willingness to show up changes us. It makes us a little braver each time.” - Brené Brown, Daring Greatly
It's Not You, It's Them
A large part of my fear of networking is wondering what people will think of my lack of experience in the industry, initiating a conversation that I just can't keep up with, or saying the wrong thing, retreating into myself, and awkwardly excusing myself from the conversation.
I can't entertain those fears anymore. I now go into networking events with confidence in my knowledge, skills, and myself. I stand tall, be exactly who I am, and not give in to other people's opinions about me. They're just that - opinions - and I'm not going to let them derail my successes, goals, and dreams.
So how do you change that mindset? One of the techniques that helped me was to actively listen with an open mind. I listen without becoming defensive, and while I may not agree with an opinion I don't let it get to me. And when I walk away, I tell myself that it's insignificant in the grand scheme of things, of life, and I move on.
"What other people think about you has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them." - Jen Sincero, You Are a Badass
Are you a networking guru, or do you feel the networking anxiety too? Comment below with your tips, tricks, and techniques for overcoming your fears and networking!