Adulting 101: Networking

Illustration by Daisy Nguyen.

Nati Feliciano-Soto, Contributing Writer 

Networking is like making a deal with the devil. You take time out of your day to seize an opportunity that requires you to dress nice, be on your best behavior and interact with strangers with whom you have no idea how to interact.

Here is the truth: Networking is not for the weak!

In a world where nepotism makes the rules, people who are not born into the gift of connections have to work their way to the top. In hopes of securing your future career, you most likely have to become buddy-buddy with someone important in your industry. 

Some resort to gaining as much experience as possible in the form of internships and volunteer work, while others learn the tricks of networking and utilize it to their advantage. Then there are those with social anxiety, like me, who hate human interaction but proceed to rely on the first option to push through. 

The intimidating practice of networking can become a burden at times, but moments of recognition and motivation are what can make these things a bit easier to navigate.

Fear not, fellow social anxiety warriors, for there are strategies to help navigate this daunting terrain. I may not be qualified to advise — I am learning myself — but I can learn alongside you. 

Networking is a skill, not a burden: I know, I know — I just finished ranting about how networking is a social hell for introverted and anxiety-filled humans like me — but the truth is it is important to recognize it is also a skill that can be learned and improved upon over time. 

Just like any other skill, it requires practice and patience. Start by setting realistic goals for yourself. Instead of aiming to interact with every executive in the room, focus on making meaningful connections with a few individuals whose interests align with yours. 

One helpful tactic that I am constantly told — though I still can let my nerves overwhelm me — is to prepare ahead of time. Research the event or organization you will be attending — for example, if it is a film festival, research the heck out of those producers and writers — and identify key individuals you would like to connect with. 

This can help alleviate some of the uncertainty and anxiety associated with walking into a room full of strangers. 

Prepare researched conversation starters: This is the most painful and gut-wrenching part of socializing. 

Once you have conducted research, come prepared with a few conversation starters or topics of interest that you can fall back on if you find yourself at a loss for words. 

Remember, networking is not just about self-promotion, it is also about building genuine relationships. This is easier when connecting with everyday humans, but the pressure to secure career advancement can be a bit overwhelming. 

To combat the pressure, approach interactions with curiosity and a willingness to learn from others. Ask open-ended questions, listen actively and show genuine interest in the person you are speaking with. 

People appreciate authenticity, and forming authentic connections can ultimately lead to more meaningful and fruitful relationships. However, when the days of the need to crawl into a hole and stay away from human contact are necessary, utilize the power of social media. LinkedIn will become your best friend. 

Virtual networking can be just as effective as face-to-face interactions, and may feel less intimidating for those with social anxiety while also giving you the opportunity to showcase your experiences, work ethic and most importantly, great achievements that you have hustled for!

Do not be discouraged by setbacks or rejections. Networking is a journey, and success often comes with perseverance and resilience. Celebrate your victories, no matter how small, and keep pushing forward toward your goals. 

Navigating the world of networking with social anxiety can be challenging, but it is not impossible. With preparation, patience and a willingness to step outside of your comfort zone, you can build meaningful connections that will serve you well throughout your career journey. 

So go forth, fellow social anxiety warriors, and conquer the world of networking one conversation at a time. 

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