How to Overcome Your Fear of Networking and Stop Procrastinating

networking series
Overcome Your Fear of Job Networking

Whether you’re new to networking or you're just feeling rusty, it can be incredibly easy to procrastinate. I know this from personal experience.

Prior to founding Career Narratives and working as an executive and career coach, I worked for four years as a senior recruiter at a top 20 executive search firm. Here’s my story.


The fear is real, so is the procrastination

My first day on the job as a recruiter was uneventful. I was assigned a search with an important client. I was encouraged to start ‘networking’. 

Without too much direction, I understood that networking meant calling around to people who were familiar with the industry and role I was hiring for. The hope was that they would provide feedback, advice and perspective that would ultimately lead to a pool of well-qualified candidates. 

It wasn’t a complicated or mysterious process. It was, however, one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

Simply put — I was afraid. 

I was afraid that:

  • No one would return my call. 
  • If someone did return my call, I didn’t know enough about the role and my client. 
  • I might come across as awkward and uninformed.
  • I might embarrass my client and the firm. 
  • In that very first call, I would destroy the credibility that I hadn't even had a chance to build as an executive recruiter. 

Classic imposter syndrome.

So I did something easier than networking, and it felt a lot better. I prepared for networking. 


Preparing for networking isn’t networking

I studied my client’s organization and history. I researched the industry and the type of role I was hiring for. I studied the job description and challenge statement the firm had already produced for the role. 



I finally realized that the phone would never ring — and I would never reach my goal — unless I started calling and emailing people first.



It all felt productive — for a few days at least. But at the end of those days, I still hadn’t done any networking — and I wasn’t any closer to reaching my goal of producing a strong pool of candidates for my client. In order for that to happen, I knew I needed to have people taking or returning my calls. 

And the phone wasn’t ringing. At all.

I finally realized that the phone would never ring — and I would never reach my goal — unless I started calling and emailing people first.


Overcome fear by making the very first contact

So I picked up the phone, and I made the first call on my list. 

I got through.

I was terrified, but the conversation wasn’t the disaster I imagined it might have been. The person I spoke with was polite and helpful. My delivery wasn’t the smoothest, but it wasn’t career-ruining either.

After just a handful of calls, I no longer felt like a fraud. I felt a little informed and even purposeful. 

After many calls and emails, I did ultimately find candidates for my client, and I also began to develop my presence in a community of professionals that I would end up reaching out to over and over again in the coming years.



Conclusion — just reach out to that first person

I never again looked at the phone, or my computer screen, paralyzed with fear and self-doubt. I had proven to myself — with just one conversation — that I wasn’t a fraud. Did I still get nervous when I started networking for a new client or was contemplating reaching out to a particularly important person? Sure. 

But I came to understand that even though I didn’t know everything, I still had the opportunity to seek guidance from people who had more knowledge and experience than I did. And they were ultimately happy and gratified to share it.

If you've been meaning to start a networking effort — whether it's to find a new job or to strengthen connections in your professional community, don't let imposter syndrome hold you back. The longer your delay, the harder it will likely be to get started. Having just one conversation can break the cycle and allow you to prove to yourself that you're not a fraud. 

I hope the insights about networking that I’m going to share in this series based on my experience as an executive recruiter will help you move past any fear, hesitancy or self-doubt that you might have.

Check out the next post for two proven strategies to help you get started. 

The time to reach out is now!


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Doug Lester is a career strategist and executive coach who has helped over a thousand people craft their work-life narratives and advance meaningful careers. A former Fortune 100 marketing executive and recruiter at a top 20 executive search firm, he is the founder of Career Narratives and has been on the coaching staff at the Harvard Business School for over 10 years. He also leads an executive coaching program for the corporate strategy group of a Fortune 100 company in Boston.

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