How to Overcome Your Networking Anxiety and Increase Your Career Contacts

You may be an accomplished executive but you’re terrified of networking. This fear is completely normal (and shared by most accomplished professionals I meet). So you’re not alone! However networking strategy is where need to focus if you’re hoping to make a career move sooner rather than later. Put your resume on the back-burner and try rethinking your networking strategy instead. In this blog post I’ll share the reasons networking is much more effective than online job applications. I’ll also share some easy networking tips to add to your overall job search and career strategy.

Why Resumes Are Less Effective Than Networking

You’re an accomplished executive but you aren’t getting hits on your resume. Or perhaps you’re struggling to know how to make a career change after spending 20 years in the same industry. If you are career changing past the age of 50 you will find this blog post helpful. Networking is a powerful tool in these career situations in particular because people hire people they like; not resumes they like. In fact, the successful networker will never have to lead with resume. While your resume does serve an important purpose in the hiring process, it should always be used as a last resort when applying to jobs. Putting yourself out there to meet, connect and weave together a roadmap of valuable contacts is your best chance of beating online applications and the ATS black hole.

Professionals who excel at networking learn very quickly that the resume is just a formality. People skills and relationship building have the power to fast-track you to the hiring manager so think twice before avoiding strategic networking. And aren’t your people skills and relationship skills far superior to any millennial out there? Networking is your powerhouse job search move. Networking will get you to your goal in half the time and with a fraction of the frustration associated with traditional job search activities.

The Key to Better Networking is to Ditch Traditional Networking

Each week I meet with a group of mature job seekers to help with accountability, positivity, and motivation in the job search. In just a few short weeks we’ve seen a ton of breakthroughs and progress but one lesson has proven invaluable for the entire group: rethinking the way we network. When we started meeting, you could hear the group sigh in disappointment at the suggestion of increased “networking.” Networking, in the traditional sense, is a drag; nametags, elevator pitches, awkward wallflower moments… It doesn’t exactly jump to the top of your priority list, right? Networking is important but it doesn’t have to be a total downer. I’ve found that when we think about networking, we are terrified. But when we examine what networking really is, it becomes less terrifying and for some, more enjoyable. True story! I recommend thinking of networking as a “research meeting.” Networking is not about fancy events. Rather it’s about getting to know someone; expressing interest in their career/work/life; building rapport by asking question; and learning in the process! So think about networking as “friendly research.” Rethinking networking in general will help you in reducing your networking anxiety.

An Incredibly Easy Way to Transform Your Mindset and Eliminate Networking Anxiety

I knew that the accountability group had to change their thinking in order to feel invigorated about networking so I shared one of my favorite quotes by Dr. Wayne Dyer:

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at will change.”

This quote has become the catalyst for our improved networking mindset and it’s one that we repeat often when we encounter traditional job search roadblocks. The job search is 90% mental. If you let your mental game become clouded by doom and gloom rejection stories, you’ll never land a job. If you can think about the job search and all of its many parts in a new way, you’ll experience a much more painless search.

This is a really important philosophy to adopt if you’re in the 50-plus age group and in fear of age discrimination. The anxiety associated with age discrimination can create an additional mental block for the job searcher. It then makes these professionals think: “I’m too old to land a job. Why would anyone want to hire or network with me?” I see it all the time. The mature job searcher gets discouraged instead of really promoting and leveraging their wealth of experience. If you’re going to beat ageism, you’ll need to adopt a new mindset around your age AND your networking abilities!

One way to transform your mindset is by thinking about the size of your network. It is probably quadruple that of any millennial out there. It’s leveraging that network that will start to give you the biggest return on your years of career investment.

Another way to transform your mindset: If you’re finding it difficult to commit to networking, jot down this quote and hang it above your desk or in your bathroom mirror. “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at will change.” Repeat it often. You’re stuck in your own head and you’ll need constant reminders to get yourself out!

Selecting High-Value Networking Events

Once you’ve started to change the way you think about networking, it’s time to think about which types of networking events to add to your calendar. The best way to select events that will produce valuable contacts is to think about your end goal. What is it you want to do? A clear sense of your career path/goal is important throughout your entire job search, but especially when identifying strategic networking events. If you know what you want to do, then you’ll better be able to hone in on where people in your target space hang out. That’s where you’ll want to hang out too. Being in a room or Zoom event with others who share your interests, will make the conversation flow easier and reduce the pressure of talking about you. Instead, you’ll be talking about common interests. Target events with like-minded people. This will greatly increase your chances of uncovering valuable leads associated with your career target.

What Effective Networking Looks Like for 50-plus Professionals

One of our more successful group members had been attending job seeker workshops and support groups as a form of networking. However, this produced very few valuable leads and kept her stuck in a cycle of fruitless networking. Through group discussion, we helped this member identify two career targets of interest. She started volunteering for benefits and festivals in her target space. She also attended every event, speaker series, and book signing attached to her career path. Within days she was setting up meetings with new contacts, being introduced to more relevant contacts and even landing meetings that turned into job interviews! She came back after one week overjoyed to report that she was uncovering a ton of new insights and having a lot of fun in the process! Was she networking? Yes. Did it feel like “networking?” No; at least not the old, boring, intimidating networking that we all so often picture in our minds. The key to this is remembering: You’re in a room of people who share your passion and interests. Relax. Have fun. The networking will happen naturally and effortlessly if you just focus on what you have in common with the people around you.

Uncovering Valuable Insights in Networking Conversations

With this particular member, her target job title wasn’t immediately clear when we started the new networking process. That didn’t matter. Simply knowing the space you want to be in (industry/company) can be enough to produce key insights into the job market and existing positions. These key insights will then lead you to more clarity around what your target job description might be. Think of this type of networking as a critical part of the self-discovery process. While it may seem intimidating to show up and meet new people without a clear target in mind, being transparent can help to lower the guard of your conversation partner.

How to Conduct Research While Networking

One great way to do this is to treat your target as a research project. Simply share with your new contact that you are interested in this space and exploring what’s out there. Share a little bit about your background and inquire as to what types of roles might seem to be a fit. This is a basic starting point but enough to generate some leads and a healthy amount of conversation. Your new contact might even feel flattered to have the opportunity to advise an industry newbie. Even if you’re not feeling totally clear on your next move, rest easy knowing you’re in a room of people who share your passion and interests. Asking for industry guidance is a great way to uncover new ideas about your next move. Don’t let fear of uncertainty prevent you from putting yourself out there. Your vulnerability in asking for help, will be motivation for those who find fulfillment in providing help.

Turning Leads into Interviews

If you’ve done it right, you’ll be leaving your networking meetings with business cards and a warm network of people willing to help you succeed. The next step is to follow up and request informational interviews with each person you met. This will allow you to continue uncovering more leads and research by asking strategic questions. Your research should eventually lead you to your target job/company and even hiring manager. Since networking and hiring takes time, don’t expect these new contacts to produce immediate results.

Continue to engage new contacts and re-engage your initial contacts with updates on your progress. As you meet with more people and your focus improves, your elevator pitch will become more refined. This will help you more succinctly communicate your value and relevance for your target job and stand out to those listening. You’ll also be on the radars of everyone you meet when the perfect opportunity does open up. It’s not unheard of for companies to create positions for people they like so get out there and start to network! Networking is one of the best ways to reboot your 50-plus job search. For more ways to reboot the job search and avoid ageism, check out this blog post.

If you’re hoping to improve your 50-plus job search and reduce age discrimination, check out our ageism-busting resume services. Our master resume writers will provide you with a custom resume strategy phone consultation, ATS and keyword optimized resume, and tailored resume that speaks to your strongest career accomplishments and value – everything you need to feel confident, navigate the job search successfully, and put your best foot forward as a 50-plus applicant.

Noelle Gross

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