January 12, 2012 at 12:44 PM

Networking? I Don’t Even Know Where to Start!

"Most successful networkers don’t have a natural ability and have had to learn, work at and consciously develop these skills"

By Patty Armstrong

Where’s My Great Career?

Patty Armstrong is a career counselor and educator on a mission to help people of all ages find careers they enjoy.

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Career Development specialists like me are constantly telling clients that networking is the key to their job search and career growth. However, except for the rare few of us who are naturally gregarious and at ease, approaching and introducing ourselves to strangers or colleagues with the motive of personal promotion or gain can be very uncomfortable and intimidating. The details of how to network for your career can be found in books like those I’ve previously reviewed in this blog. I want to focus on how to develop that confidence and ease to approach people and sell ourselves. This is where you start.

Most successful networkers don’t have a natural ability and have had to learn, work at and consciously develop these skills. The support and education to do this can be found in a wide variety of places, which may cost money or be completely free.

Some people are fortunate to have had this as early as childhood with one or more confident, guiding parents, relatives, teachers, spiritual leaders or other mentors who help us learn to recognize and value ourselves and our abilities, which then makes it easier for us to tell potential employers why they should value us, too.

Others find or seek out these invaluable guides in our adulthood. Whether we happen upon them or go looking for them, it is important to know what qualities and information we need from a program or person to help us learn how to present best selves to others.

Our guides, whether they are self-help books, classes, seminars, videos, groups, counselors or mentors, should make us feel comfortable and fit our personal values. Of course we are seeking to change or improve ourselves, but we should not be made to feel stupid, wrong or unable to be successful without their constant guidance. A great teacher, counselor or motivator stirs excitement about taking steps to improve ourselves and helps break down the process to make it reasonable, accessible and achievable.

The best program, workshop, seminar or class to help you develop the skills you need will offer activities to help you look at yourself and learn words and concepts that describe what kind of person you are, e.g.  do I tend to be more introverted or extroverted?, What are the great qualities and challenges of my type of personality?, What skills do I have and what can I do really well? Follow up activities will help you learn to express these and develop confidence in doing so. Obviously, the more you practice and seek out activities that build these skills, the better, less nervous and more self-assured you’ll become.

Where can you find these programs? Colleges offer classes in public speaking, interpersonal communications, small group communications and leadership development. Spiritual organizations and leaders offer similar free or for fee programs, seminars and guidance. Continuing education
programs offer low-cost workshops or classes. Businesses provide training or professional development for employees. Professional organizations offer or require on-going education for their membership. Therapeutic and guidance counselors facilitate self-help groups and individual consultations. One of the most successful, inexpensive and international programs is Toastmasters. Santa Fe actually has five different Toastmaster clubs.

Learning to speak up and present yourself to others is scary. But it can also be exciting and build confidence, especially when it results in great opportunities. This could even be a good idea for a New Year’s resolution.

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