The other day I was talking to a college senior about to graduate. He was looking all professional and smart in his new pressed suit and glasses, but young and a little uncomfortable in the room full of business execs gathered to network and mentor the students. What stood out to me most about him, more than anything for the first hour was his silence. After a little prodding to join the conversation he finally shared the source of his pained look. “I’ve talked to all the recruiters I can find and passed out a bunch of resumes, but still can’t find a job. What else can I do?”
“Make people take notice of you,” I said. “You’re letting yourself disappear in this crowd.” It was a rather blunt response, I admit, but one he obviously needed to hear. Quite frankly, a lot of people do. This poor kid, despite doing everything he had been told to do, might as well have been invisible because of his shyness.
Personally, I’ve never known what it’s like to be shy. I was born craving a seat at the adult table, a part in the conversation, an opportunity to shine. Just like my mom, I’ve been walking up to complete strangers and asking them how they were doing since I first learned to talk. So why, if you’re one of the shy ones, should you listen to me? I haven’t been in your shoes. I have, however, helped a ton of people like this guy break out of their shell to engage with the rest of the world. And most have discovered amazing new contacts and exciting opportunities that were right under their nose – almost immediately – as a result.
If you’re out there looking for a break, your own success may very likely depend on your ability to shine. With so many people looking for jobs this is not the time to blend in, let alone get lost in the crowd. Organizations with available opportunities are few and far between and if you want them to look seriously at you, you’d better get comfortable selling yourself fast. Easier said than done, I know, but here are some tips to help ease you into a new comfort zone:
- Honestly, many execs are just as shy as you and find breaking the ice with strangers really awkward. So know you’re not alone.
- Smiling warmly goes a long way. It’s the easiest thing you can do to say you’re approachable and invite someone to start chatting.
- People hire people they like as much as for their credentials. Be likeable. Show them you’re someone they’d enjoy having around the office everyday.
- You don’t have to say something profound or get right down to business at a career fair or networking event. The easiest way to get someone comfortable quickly is to ask them about how they’re doing, or comment on something they’re wearing or the booth they’ve just put together. Sometimes the most minor, random, benign comments are your best shot at getting things going.
- Ask advice. Be real and say something like “Can I ask you a question? What’s your best advice for someone in my shoes who….”
- Realize that most new people you meet, you’ll never see again. So put yourself out there and don’t be afraid to try new tactics as you go.
- Take an outgoing buddy with you to your next event, career fair or dinner party. Let them in on your little shyness secret and enlist their help as your wingman. Then just follow their lead and see how easy meeting new people and showing the world what your made of really can be.
Bottom line is this. Shyness is like an undeveloped muscle that anyone can build with a little work, courage and tenacity.