I have never loved the idea of networking. The idea of attending a formal event designed to persuade strangers that they should help advance your career prospects has never been my ideal night out. Working in graduate recruitment for a number of years meant I had the opportunity to practice a lot of related skills, so I thought I was fairly comfortable with professional socialising and networking.
I was therefore surprised to feel a pang of nervousness at the prospect of attending a networking event solo last month. I didn’t really know anybody else that was attending but thought it would be a good opportunity to make some new contacts and connect with some (hopefully) familiar faces.
I registered to attend the event with enthusiasm, pleased I was practicing what I preach in terms of reaching out and embracing my extended network. As the event approached, doubt crept in. What if everybody else already knew everyone? What if I ran out of things to say to people?
By the time the event rolled around, I did not want to go. I moaned to my friend about how it wasn’t fair I had to attend this event with such a high potential for social awkwardness. When she responded reminding me that I didn’t HAVE to go, I was a bit taken aback. I wanted solidarity – for her to agree that it wasn’t fair etc etc. She very helpfully reminded me that nobody was making me go along to the event. I had chosen to sign up, and I was attending mainly for selfish reasons. Why was I being a martyr about it?
I realised I had succumbed to the victim mentality that coach Steve Chandler talks about in many of his books. Chandler talks about our choice to be reactive or proactive with opportunities and challenges life presents to us. He believes that those who take ownership and recognise their ability to choose how to respond to any circumstance or situation generate better results than those who moan and curse external circumstances.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget we all have choices. Many students and graduates who are searching for a job tell me they get frustrated when things aren’t going their way. I remember this all too well. Trying to balance final year studies with job applications, while trying to remain upbeat surrounded by headlines reminding you of the state of the economy is tough. This is especially true if you’re receiving rejections or (even worse) not hearing back at all from job applications you have put your blood sweat and tears into.
In situations like this, it’s not about the amount of rejections you receive, and it’s not about the amount of interviews or assessment centres you don’t pass. It’s not helpful to point the finger at employers, the economy, or the stiff competition out there. While these factors may have an impact on you and your job search, it won’t help the situation to simply focus on the negative reasons why life isn’t fair.
We can still choose how we respond to all of the above. We can choose to keep going; to seek feedback (where possible) and keep applying to companies we want to work for. We can attend careers fairs, presentations, and network with businesses and employers both in person and online.
We can choose to keep learning about companies and industries. Lots can be learned from conducting detailed research and asking considered questions that genuinely interest you at networking events.
For me considering this networking event last month, I had forgotten that I had choices – I had chosen to sign up to the event, and I could decide to attend the event, or I could decide to stay on the sofa and watch Netflix.
I could also choose to focus on the risks of attending (social awkwardness, stilted small talk) or I could focus on the potential opportunities from attending (new business, increased confidence, and expanding my network).
As it turns out, I did go, and I was glad that I did. There were some awkward moments, including mishearing the lady on the door and repeatedly spelling out my surname even though she wasn’t asking for it, but I’m pleased I pushed myself to attend. And Netflix was still waiting for me when I got home.
Hannah Salton worked in corporate HR & recruitment for 8 years, most recently looking after graduate recruitment for global law firm Allen & Overy. In 2017 she transitioned to become a career coach and consultant, delivering bespoke career coaching programmes for graduates looking to develop the skills and awareness needed to secure their dream job.