One of the keys to a successful job search is networking, which can be defined as meeting people you don’t know to ask for something you don’t have. If you’re by nature a shy person, networking can be agonizing. When biologists and zoologists use the term shy to describe animals, it generally means “tends to avoid human beings.” Career coaches define it the same way.
One sure way to overcome your fear of speaking to strangers is to focus on them, not on you. Many shy people are so focused on what they are feeling (embarrassed, unsure, tongue-tied) that they completely forget the other party in the transaction. Instead of wondering what in the world you’ll say to someone, prepare a couple of questions to get the other person talking about himself.
Since this is a discussion about career search, we can start with two questions that anyone can answer and will always start a conversation: “What kind of work do you do?” or “What kind of work are you looking for?” (if the other person is unemployed.) People love to talk about their work, and you can keep the conversation going by asking general questions like: Do you enjoy it? What do you specialize in? What do you like most about it?
Once you start really listening to what the other person says, you can start to relax. It’s not about you; it’s about her. Think of it as a game: how long can you volley back questions to keep the conversation going? Trust me; you’ll come off as a brilliant conversationalist in the other person’s mind.
Eventually, the conversation may come around to you again. Hopefully, by this time, you’ll be more at ease with your conversation partner. Come prepared with some conversation openers about yourself. “I’m here hoping to connect with other people in the construction industry.” “I’m thinking about finding a volunteer opportunity while I’m out of work, so I’m here to ask people what civic organizations they support.” Even this: “I’m here to practice meeting new people, since that’s the hardest part of my job search. Thanks for making it easy for me.”