Too shy to job hunt?

By Anne Fisher, contributor

(Fortune) -- Dear Annie: I've been looking for a job for about three months. I started out contacting former colleagues and bosses to see if they knew of any openings that might be appropriate for me. But I've now come to the end of that list, and I realize I need to start getting in touch with acquaintances from professional groups, my college alumni association, and so on.

The trouble is, these are people I don't know so well (and who aren't familiar with my past work except maybe secondhand), and somehow I can't bring myself to do it. I keep putting off picking up the phone, or even approaching people on LinkedIn. I just dread "cold calling." I've always been a little on the shy side, but this is ridiculous. Do you have any tips that might get me going? -- Procrastinating Pam

Dear Pam: You're certainly not alone in feeling awkward about reaching out to virtual strangers. It's especially tough for the roughly 50% of the population that belongs to the personality type known as "introverted." (See "Job Hunting for Introverts.")

Career coach Tom Dezell ran across so many job hunters who "rate their own networking skills at a 'C' grade or below," he says, that he wrote a book to help them overcome the same mental block you're facing, called Networking for the Novice, Nervous, or Naïve Job Seeker (iUniverse, $13.95).

Like anything else, networking gets easier the more you do it, so the question is how to get started. These seven tips from Dezell should get you through your first few calls (or e-mails), which just might give you the confidence to keep going.

1. Start slowly. Make a list of all the contacts you have in mind who are beyond your usual comfort zone. Then rank them in order of difficulty and call the easiest ones first.

2. Never assume a "no." "Many times job seekers talk themselves out of contacting someone because they assume the person won't want to help or won't be able to," Dezell notes. "But you never know unless you ask, and you'll gain confidence when you realize how many people are actually pleased to hear from you."

The worst mistake, he says, is to avoid admitting that you're out of work. One of his coaching clients found a new job by mentioning to his next-door neighbor that he was looking. "If he had tried to pretend he wasn't unemployed, he would never have learned about that job opening," says Dezell.

3. Perfect your "elevator pitch." Everyone is madly busy these days, so "catching a contact's attention as quickly as possible is vital," says Dezell. "You need to practice introducing yourself in a way that immediately tells the other person who you are and what you have to offer."

When tailoring your very short speech to a particular audience of one, a little research can be a big help. "Before you contact someone, try to find out what she is working on or planning for," Dezell says. "What issues does she face right now? If you can briefly describe a skill or experience you have that can address a need, you stand a much better chance of getting her attention."

4. Ask for advice rather than information about specific job openings. Not only does this approach avoid putting the other person on the spot, it also might produce useful insights into what's going on at his or her company, or suggestions about other people you should call.

5. Try to offer something in return. "Just because you're out of work at the moment doesn't mean you have nothing to offer," Dezell notes. "The more networking you do, the more potentially valuable information you pick up along the way, which you can then pass along. Or, if you're doing Internet research and you come across an article that might interest one of your contacts, send it."

6. Always ask for additional contact names. Finish up the conversation by asking if the person can suggest anyone else you might call for more information. If you've made a positive impression, he or she is usually happy to oblige, Dezell says. "And if you can start off that next contact by saying, 'So-and-So recommended that I get in touch with you...' it takes a lot of the anxiety out of cold calling."

7. Establish a network e-mail list. Put together a list of all the people you've spoken with who have shown an interest in your job hunt, and e-mail them regularly (once a month or so) to update them on your search, including where you've applied, whom you've spoken with, and so on.

"Doing this keeps you in people's minds and lets them respond quickly if they hear of anything that might help you," says Dezell. Keep your bulletins brief, but do attach items of interest if you can, so that people look forward to getting your e-mails.

Once you get a new job, don't stop networking, he adds: "The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us the average tenure in a job is four years, so odds are you will be looking again sometime, and you don't want to have to start building your network all over again from scratch." Hear, hear.

Talkback: Do you find networking difficult? If so, have you found ways to make it less nerve-wracking? Anything networkers do that turn you off? Tell us on Facebook, below. To top of page

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