Are you a natural networker?

Eighty per cent of all hirings in Canada are done through the "hidden" job market. Networking is therefore essential for finding a job. It can also help you find new customers, maintain business relationships, discover investors who'll support your business ideas and recruit talent. Many people are not familiar with the art of networking and even those who are can find it challenging.

Why do so many of us find networking uncomfortable?

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Our personality type can determine how we feel about networking - not whether we are any good at it, just whether we find it energizing or draining. We are all capable of building a network, provided we have a good grasp of the English language and some good communication skills - verbal and non-verbal.

There are two "types" of personality that can influence how motivated we are to network.

Some of us feel at ease around others and draw energy from connecting with the outside world, through networking meetings, informational interviews, cold calls, regular interviews, coffee meetings, training events, job fairs, etc. These are the natural extroverts, who are energized by interacting with people, socially and professionally; they like the feedback, attention and appreciation they get from participating in such activities and actively engaging in conversation.

Many of us dread these types of activities, which often require us to proactively approach people we don't know, initiate a conversation by introducing ourselves, and promote ourselves, usually with a rehearsed "elevator pitch." These are the natural introverts who enjoy time alone and like to listen to others rather than talk. Introverts are energized by having time to think and process their thoughts and feelings. After spending time with others and being the centre of attention they need space and privacy to recharge their batteries.

You can learn how to be a good networker if you accept your strengths and limitations, rather than use them as excuses.

Know what you need to keep yourself motivated. For example, if you have a preference for extroversion:

Be focussed as you network; think about your goals, plan who you want to meet and consider where you might find them. Don't just network for the sake of networking.

Be careful not to overdo it. It's easy to get distracted and time management can then become an issue. If you're job searching, give yourself permission to take time off from your activities and balance your time with other activities you enjoy.

Avoid spending too much time by yourself.

Ask questions and be willing to listen to what others have to say; recognize this is important to the relationship-building process.

Think before you speak.

If you have a preference for Introversion:

Find a networking partner - someone you can go to events with, who may even be prepared to introduce you to new people.

Choose structured, facilitated networking events or online forums to find connections and opportunities.

Volunteer to be a host at a structured networking event, or sign up for other voluntary work that can help you build your contacts and develop your confidence at presenting yourself to others.

Start small - create ways to network with individuals and small groups.

Learn how to make "small talk" to initiate conversation with new people. Practise asking open-ended questions with people you already know and feel comfortable with.

Hazel Morley is principal of Think Smart: Training and Coaching with Change in Mind. She can be contacted at hazel@thinksmarttraining.com.

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