Unleash Your Inner Networker

Tips for networking in person, because socializing online doesn't replace a handshake and a smile.

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Tim Tyrell-Smith
Success in networking requires you to unleash a part of yourself—the part keeping you at home when you should be out and about. That social trait could be hurting you professionally, even if you don’t realize it.

But why does in-person networking matter? Can’t we just stay home and meet people by phone, e-mail, and online? Isn’t it easier and more modern to network that way?

It’s true that you can meet a lot of people online. You can even build social credibility before attending an event. But online networking is no replacement for a handshake and a smile.

Here are the most common negative factors that hold us back from networking in person:

Lack of purpose. Maybe you’re employed and don’t see yourself losing your job anytime soon. Or you could be unemployed, but simply attend whatever event shows up on your calendar. In both cases, social networking may seem like a lot of work with little return.

[See 20 Ways to Stay Motivated During Your Job Search.]

Foolish pride. You have a purpose and a need but don’t see yourself as one of those needy people who attend networking events. Does wearing a sticker with your name on it and meeting a bunch of strangers sound below you?

Fear of rejection. Entering a highly social environment means you’re allowing others to judge you and determine whether you’re worthy of their time. It also means you’ll likely face a bunch of questions you may not be comfortable answering.

Ignorance about how it works. You don’t know what to wear, or whether it’s OK to have a drink. And you can’t quite figure out who you are supposed to introduce yourself to. And where should you put the nametag again?

Negative mindset. Maybe you had a bad layoff, a bad experience at a prior event, or simply don’t believe you’re interesting enough for other people to want to talk to. If you have a sour feeling in your stomach, it’s likely to show.

[See Latest in Career Networking: Network Roulette.]

To unleash your inner networker, try these solutions to the negative factors described above:

Figure out your networking type. Both you and the people you meet have your own unique way of getting to know others. Understand your own career networking tendencies, and you’re more likely to succeed in the networking environment.

Network with a purpose. If networking seems inefficient, build a plan. Identify what you’re looking for: a new job, for example, or other job-search objectives. Once you know your objectives, use social networking to achieve them by identifying specific people you want to meet, looking into where they network, and figuring out a plan for how to meet them.

Change the way you view the world. The world is full of strangers you haven’t met yet. If you truly believe this, your view of networking will change. You’ll start looking for consistencies and similarities rather than differences. And you’ll begin to enjoy the process of meeting new people.

Use rejection as a step toward success. Not every social interaction will go well, of course. We’ve all experienced some failure while networking, but that’s the only way you’ll experience success. Put yourself at some risk each and every time you head out to an event, and you’ll see results.

Ask great questions. Ignorance is hard to justify because you learn so much by asking questions. If you’re unsure how to act or dress at a networking event, ask a friend. Or e-mail the organizer in advance. Another idea? Show up early, introduce yourself, and get settled.

[For more career advice, visit U.S. News Careers, or find us on Facebook or Twitter.]

Find a happy place. Your positive attitude matters when networking. While people feel empathy if you appear down, they’ll be more likely to help you if you’re positive and able to help yourself first. So find a happy memory or big victory to focus on as you enter the room. Start positive, and you’ll be more likely to feel positive throughout the event.

So figure out what’s keeping you home, use these simple fixes to unleash your inner networker, and enjoy those social successes.

What’s holding you back from attending in-person networking events?

Tim Tyrell-Smith is founder of Tim's Strategy, a site that helps professionals succeed in job search, career and life strategy. Follow Tim on Twitter, @TimsStrategy, and share his 30 Ideas Book with job-seeking friends.