Confident networking: how to stop selling and start connecting

Whether you’re seeking a career in academia or industry, you’ll need to develop networking skills.

But there’s one challenge: most people don’t like networking. They feel uncomfortable walking into a room full of strangers, making small talk, and finding a reason to follow up. If you’re someone who is nervous about networking, the following tips should boost your confidence.

Avoid the used-car salesman approach

Networking isn’t about what others can do for you—it’s actually about what you can for others. We call this Positive Networking®.

Once you realize this, you will stop feeling like a salesperson. By not feeling like you have to sell yourself, you’ll take the pressure off of those uncomfortable networking interactions. 

Putting your focus on the other person creates a natural curiosity. From there, you’ll find that one of the biggest networking challenges—what to talk about—is solved, because you will automatically ask questions to learn more about that person.  

Build a reputation as competent and attentive

We teach a Training workshop in Networking Skills. One of our participants, a Mitacs postdoctoral fellow, said that the session “helped me to see networking as a tool to develop relationships by offering to understand people’s problems and build dynamic solutions. This approach will allow you to build a reputation as someone who is flexible, competent, and attentive.”

By shifting his focus, the participant concentrated on listening to the other person to see if he could add value, no matter where the conversation went. For example, if the other person was talking about the work they were doing, and he would ask himself, “I wonder if there is someone I could connect them with? Could I send this person some relevant information?”

Networking is about building relationships. When you help others, you are enhancing your reputation and people will remember you.

Start practicing now

The next time you are at a conference, a networking event with industry partners, or even a social event, take the focus off yourself and what others can do for you. Instead, focus on the other person. Amazing things will happen if you approach networking this way.

A few more tips for confident networking

  1. When you walk into a networking situation, remember that you are perfectly normal. Most people feel the same as you: they find networking uncomfortable too. Take the emotion out of the situation and treat it like an experiment: see how you can make others feel more comfortable.   
  2. Don’t be so concerned about the outcome of each networking encounter. Focus on the other person rather than trying to sell yourself. 
  3. Ask questions.  People love it when you are interested in them.  Everyone has a story; make it your goal to discover theirs.

Gayle Hallgren and Judy Thomson, CA, are facilitators who teach these workshops:  Mitacs Training Networking Skills, Skills of Communication, and Career Professionalism. Find free guides and helpful tips at their website

Want to learn more about networking? Mitacs Training offers Networking Skills and Tips for Growing Your Network workshops free to graduate students in Canada. 

Sign up for a workshop in your city today.


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