By Bob McIntosh, Career Trainer
Most of us have a comfort zone. Mine’s walking into a workshop and talking about various job search topics. I guess I’ve been leading workshops on the job search for so long, thousands over the course of six years, that engaging with people (the more the better) is second nature to me. I’m comfortable and in my zone.
There are times when I’m not comfortable, like when I have to order a meal—I’m indecisive and usually defer to Kung Pao Chicken—or talking to complete strangers in a setting where I have to make small talk, like at a networking event. While I attend networking events on occasion, I still experience a bit of discomfort.
If you’re like me, and feel uncomfortable entering a large room full of strangers, you’re experiencing what it’s like to leave your comfort zone. You shouldn’t feel that it’s unusual to feel this way, but you must continue attending networking events. They are necessary in your job search.
This means you must get outside your comfort zone. So how do you get outside your comfort zone? Follow these steps:
1. Like Nike says, “Just do it.” That’s right, tell yourself that meeting new contacts is necessary in order to shorten your job search.
2. Set a goal of how many people you’ll talk with. If you’re an extravert, you may prefer to work the room—the more the better. Introverts prefer fewer but deeper conversations, so set a goal of meeting two or three quality contacts.
3. Get emotionally prepared by choosing a nice outfit to wear, but nothing too fancy. The ones who have been attending for a while are usually nicely dressed. Don’t wear a suit to an event if it’s not called for. On the other hand don’t go under dressed.
4. Have your personal business cards ready. There’s nothing more embarrassing than being asked for your card and not having one. I personally leave a stack of business cards in the glove compartment of my car just in case.
5. Bring a friend along or plan to meet someone at the event. I tell my workshop attendees there’s no reason why they need to do it alone. Driving together will give them time to strategize as to when it will be best to separate at the event.
6. Approach people who are standing alone. They’re waiting for someone like you to start the conversation. They’re out of their comfort zone, too, so you can feel good about helping someone get acclimated.
7. Speaking of conversation, you should have your talking points ready. Current events are fine as long as you stay away from religion and politics. No sense in starting an argument. If conversation isn’t going well, break away very politely. No hard feelings.
8. Don’t come on too strong. I still remember a public relations coordinator who approached me at a trade show, hand outstretched, and launched into his memorized 30-second commercial. He sounded stiff an unnatural.
9. Speaking to #8, you’ll need an http://thingscareerrelated.com/2011/10/25/3-things-to-keep-in-mind-when-delivering-your-elevator speech, but ease into it with a little small talk, or wait until you’re asked about yourself.
10. Take a breather if you need to. Walk outside and take in some fresh air. Just remember to return.
Once you’ve accomplished getting outside your comfort zone and feel great about “Just doing it,” you will need to followup with the people you met. Take the attitude that if you don’t initiate the follow-up it won’t happen, even if this means getting outside your comfort zone.
About the Author
Bob McIntosh, CPRW, is a career trainer at the Career Center of Lowell, where he leads more than 20 workshops on the career search. Bob is often the person jobseekers and staff go to for advice on the job search. As well, he critiques resumes and conducts mock interviews. One of his greatest accomplishments is starting a LinkedIn group, which is one of the largest of its kind in the state, and developing three in-high-demand workshops on LinkedIn. Bob’s greatest pleasure is helping people find rewarding careers in a competitive job market. Please visit Bob’s blog at www.thingscareerrelated.wordpress.com.