Even if you avoid networking all year, it’s inevitable during the holiday season that you will find yourself at a networking event – your company party, your kids’ school events, the year-end celebration for a professional group you’re involved with. Networking this time of year is also beneficial as people tend to be more festive and therefore friendlier, and even companies are likely to be more receptive as they shift their focus to needs and goals for next year.
So since you’ll be networking whether you plan to or not, you might as well do some planning and preparation to get the most out of it. Here are seven obstacles that often stymie people’s networking efforts and strategies to overcome these common problem situations:
You’re overwhelmed with everything else you need to do
When I tell my clients to step up their networking during the holiday season, the most common constraint is being too busy for yet another to-do. If you find yourself pushing back on networking because you’re too busy with other things, then combine your efforts. Need to keep in touch with your professional contacts? Order some extra holiday cards and include them on your list. Need to reconnect with former colleagues and classmates? Invite them along your holiday shopping trip. Need some dedicated time to plan for next year? Your network does too and may appreciate you hosting an accountability meeting.
Another common obstacle to doing more (or any) networking is shyness. If networking makes you uncomfortable, pick activities that still maintain contact with other people but play to your comfort zone. Reaching out on social media, by email or with a holiday mailing are all examples of networking that don’t require live interaction. Make sure you at least keep these activities on your list. But there is tremendous value in face-to-face connections as well, so to minimize the discomfort (and force you out there) consider volunteering for a networking event, rather than just attending. If you’re on the organizing team or help check people in, you have a role to play which gives you something else to focus on instead of your nervousness. People are also more likely to come to you since you’re working the event.
You feel awkward at large events
Even if you aren’t shy, large events can be awkward or intimidating. If you’re comfortable 1-on-1, focus on people standing solo. I always find it easier to approach one individual, rather than inserting myself into a group already talking away. Focus on open-ended questions (e.g., what brings you to this event, what was your favorite takeaway from the speaker) rather than Yes/ No answers, so the conversation continues without you having to think of another question right away. Finally, give yourself a measurable goal to hit for the event before leaving – e.g., talking to three new people or finding one person also from your industry or also in your line of work.
You’re unemployed and unsure how to introduce yourself
So you convince yourself to attend that holiday networking event and the typical first question is, “What do you do?” but you’re unemployed and feel stuck on how to introduce yourself. Don’t worry about not having a current company or role to talk about. Instead, talk about something you’re working on – a volunteer project, the research you are uncovering during your job search. If you’re an unemployed marketer, you could mention an interesting trend you’re following in customer analytics. If you’re an unemployed analyst dying to get into cryptocurrencies, you could mention the different crypto companies you’re following. Remember that you’re all there to have a good time, not pick out who does and doesn’t have a job. If you have something interesting to say and are positive and upbeat, people will enjoy talking with you and you’ll make genuine connections.
You’re changing careers and unsure how to introduce yourself
An introduction that focuses on a topic may work for someone who knows they want marketing analytics or the cryptocurrency industry, but what if you’re not sure what you want? How do you pick the one thing to introduce yourself with when you’re changing careers and unsure what your main interest is? Remember that your introduction is not meant to reveal every detail of your background (you wouldn’t want the person you’re talking with to go on and on about their life story either!). You just need to pick something to open with, and you can also add or clarify later. If you want to keep it broad, talk about marketing instead of customer analytics specifically. Or mention financial services or fintech, rather than cryptocurrency. Your introduction doesn’t brand you entirely or forever, so don’t let introduction anxiety keep you from talking to people at all.
You fail to keep in touch
So you start networking, you get yourself to some large events, and you even introduce yourself to new people, but then, like too many other people, you don’t keep in touch! One introduction does not make for a strong relationship. You have to follow up to stay front of mind and to deepen the connection. If you are the networking type that meets people easily but fails to keep in touch, build in the follow-up to your calendar. When you book a networking event, reserve a half hour the very next day to add people to your contact database, to send out Nice meeting you emails (ideally with specific references to what you discussed the night before) and to connect to people on social media. If you promised something to someone – an introduction, the title of a book that came up in conversation – send that out before you forget. For people you networked with throughout the year but failed to keep in touch, add them to your holiday card list and rekindle that connection.
You’re happily employed and don’t need to network
Finally, if you decide to decline every opportunity to network because you’re happily employed and therefore don’t need it, then I invite you to reconsider. Jobs change quickly – new management comes in and restructures, market conditions change and your role loses priority. You don’t want to be that person who only reaches out when they need something. Furthermore, if you want to advance in your career, you will need support beyond your immediate boss and department. The higher you go, the more cross-functional the decision-making team is. If you don’t have a network outside your immediate role, then you are isolating yourself from opportunities.
The holiday season is a great time to expand your networking activity. Don’t let shyness or discomfort about networking keep you sidelined. Use the strategies above to work around the most common problems with networking. Happy connecting!
This post originally appears in my Forbes column.