Networking for the Socially Awkward

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The other day I ran into a girl from one of my classes who excitedly asked, “How are you?” I uncomfortably squirmed for an answer to this easy question. I responded with, “How are you,” quickly realizing how stupid I sounded only after she gave me a strange look. This is how I talk to people I somewhat know. Imagine how much more awkward I am when speaking with strangers. And not just any strangers, but professionals who could potentially help further my career. It’s not a pretty picture. Since I’m so painfully shy and awkward, I always have a difficult time networking, but I found ways to make it less painful while not making myself look like a complete idiot.

1. Start small

If you attend any college event such as a career fair where there’s bound to be tons of people to talk to, you don’t have to pressure yourself to speak to everyone. Talking to just a few people ensures that you’re connecting and getting more information than those who focus on talking to everyone.

2. Be prepared

The more prepared you come with questions you want answered, the less worried you are about coming up with talking points on the spot. Come up with questions you actually care about; it shows the person you speak to that you’re serious and genuinely interested in what they have to say.

3. Stop apologizing

“I’m sorry I’m so awkward” is my go-to apology for every social situation. But think about how annoying that must sound to another person. Not only does it lack professionalism and confidence but it draws more attention to your so-called awkwardness. Chances are you’re the only one who thinks you’re awkward. Don’t be that person who always apologizes.

4. Smile

Well, duh. It seems like common sense to smile when speaking to people but you’d be surprised how easy it is to forget. Especially when you’re out of your comfort zone. You know that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when a stranger randomly smiles at you? Do that for other people; it makes you more memorable than someone with an ever-present frown gracing their face.

5. Get over your fear of rejection

One of the worst things shy people tend to do is second-guess themselves. What if this person doesn’t like me? What if I can’t formulate a coherent sentence? It’s a never-ending cycle of “what if’s.” Instead ask yourself, “so what?” It’s impossible to please everyone and putting an end to perfectionist thinking helps you to be present in the moment rather than over-analyze everything in your mind.

6. Follow up

Oftentimes when networking I can’t wait to walk the hell away. Not because I didn’t like the person but so that my heartbeat goes down to a normal rate. “Thank you for your time” isn’t exactly the best way to end things. Instead, share your contact information or take a business card, vowing to keep in contact and actually doing so.

7. Be yourself

It’s extremely cheesy, but extremely important. Shyness isn’t the end of the world nor should it give you shame. Be your authentic, humble, shy self–many find it endearing and relatable, even if you don’t see yourself that way.

Elizabeth is a junior at University of Washington majoring in Journalism and Comparative Literature. She's always trying to be less sarcastic and always fails miserably. One time she met George Clooney and everything in the world made sense for those precious three seconds.

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