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Recently, a job seeker at a large conference I attended (let’s call her “Jane”), told me that she hated going to networking events because she did not feel comfortable with “self promotion.” When I asked what she meant, she said she was a friendly person and felt that she easily meets people and could talk with them about the conference, the weather, the program, etc. However, Jane felt uncomfortable talking about herself to others and about possibly appearing obnoxious in discussing her current job search. Yet, she had been advised by others that she needed to “self-promote” in order to get job leads. As I listened, it was clear that her concern has several layers to it.
Let’s start with a definition. Self-promote does not mean “be obnoxious.” If you sound cocky about what you do or you only talk about your job hunt then you certainly could come across as annoying. The idea in networking is to be professionally “visible” and to be involved. The goal is to develop professional relationships and to do so in an honest and genuine way, focusing on your interest in others. Part of that process is taking time to learn who others are. Aren’t you curious about the people you meet? What position do they have in the organization itself? What do they do professionally? That gives you information about their identity so you can further a relationship – perhaps you can help them in some way; maybe you know someone who can use their services; and of course, perhaps this person would be a great connection to a company or industry that you are exploring. So the reverse is true, too. People want to know who you are and what your professional identity is for the same reasons that you do. When you position yourself as a professional in your field by providing information about your identity, you earn professional respect and open doors to helpful relationships.
So how do you do this in a non-annoying way? Go to events where you can meet other professionals face to face. Be yourself and be sure to convey a professional image in your dress and what you say. Show interest in others. Ask them what they do, how long they’ve done it, what they enjoy. Ask for their business card so you can keep in touch. Usually, they will ask you similar questions back to find out more about you, too. Be comfortable with a very brief statement about yourself as a professional – for example, “I’m a senior manager in the Human Resources field, specializing in benefits programs and I’m currently in transition.” Be positive and upbeat in your conversation. Focus on getting to know others and not on job openings that they might know about. Soon enough, people will reach out to you for ideas, help, and yes, even with connections to job leads. So get out there and be visible, be positive, be interested, be helpful. It’s a sure winner.