If the most important thing about college is networking, and talking to strangers is something you would maybe want to do if the only alternative was a root canal, then you may feel defeated and upset. But don’t despair! There are plenty of ways to network, even if you consider yourself awkward and shy (and, protip: most people think they are awkward and shy).
- Network online. LinkedIn is the most obvious choice, but student message boards, Facebook groups, subreddits, and other online communities can allow you to think about what you say. You may think online networking isn’t as useful, but connecting with people in your major on an online community, or answering incoming freshmen’s questions on Facebook is really valuable and can help you connect to people who share your interests. Just because you start talking to people online doesn’t mean it has to stay online, and if you already have something in common, it’s easier to get started in real life.
- Talk to your professors during office hours, especially if you are hesitant about asking a question in front of an entire lecture hall. This doesn’t mean you should bug them with inane questions whose answers are on the syllabus (cough), but go and introduce yourself to professors you respect or who are in fields you want to work in. Read their work (articles, books) first if possible, and be ready to have a professional conversation about the field. Professors love this, so you will make a positive impression. This is obviously easier to do if you are actually excited about the topic and field. If you find yourself zoning out when it’s about your own major, maybe you should consider switching.
- Make small social goals. On Monday, you might make it a goal to make eye contact and smile at three new people. On Tuesday, decide you will strike up a conversation with someone in the cafeteria or student union. You might never become best friends with these people, but the practice in getting to know people and start conversations will be invaluable. It gets easier every time.
- Consider it your conversational goal to find things in common with people. Ask questions about others, and think about ways they are like you. Good questions to start conversations with peers include where they’re from, what they do for fun, etc. As a project, think about how many questions you have to ask in order to be able to say “Wow, me too!” to someone.
- Throw a party. This is a great way to play social experimenter and get a bunch of people together for casual interaction, and if there are a ton of people, the pressure’s off you to carry all the conversations.
- Work hard on being an empathetic listener. If you’re shy, don’t tell yourself that. Work on telling others – with your actions – that you’re a great listener. People love that, and it is a very positive quality in this day and age.
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