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Start Talking to Strangers

As you think about ways to grow your career, put yourself in a position to try new things. If you never learn anything new or take your skills to the next level, you’re not bettering yourself, let alone increasing your value in the workplace.

To that end, it’s essential to cultivate relationships and network, the theme of this issue—with people you perceive to be smarter, wiser or even funnier than you. Usually these people are right around us, completely accessible, but we don’t open ourselves to the possibilities of meeting them.

I would often attend industry functions because it’s the thing to do when you’re running a business or looking to grow your career. One day I thought, “I keep going to all of these things, but I’m not really getting anything out of them. What’s wrong with this picture?” I wondered if I should stop going, and then realized that probably wasn’t the best idea. There’s a reason I was drawn to them in the first place.

As I went through this self-analysis, I discovered that I always brought a friend with me. We would stand in a corner talking about everyone, instead of talking to everyone. I was missing opportunities within any given event because I was afraid to stick my neck out. So I started to go alone and I made a pact with myself: I couldn’t leave an event until I introduced myself to at least three people.

I’ve got to tell you, at the first several events with this self-imposed new policy, those three people were all waiters. While there’s nothing wrong with that, I realized I needed to introduce myself to other attendees. It’s unnerving at first, but you get used to it quickly.

Today I still talk to the waiters, and I always talk to the participants too. Sometimes nothing comes of it. Other times—more often than not—something does: a new resource, a new nugget of information, a new friend, a new client, a new something that I wouldn’t have gotten had I not put myself out there.

Many women attend our Women For Hire events because they want to talk to one or five or even 30 specific employers. That’s great. But they’re missing out on the larger opportunity when they don’t also introduce themselves to the other women who are there, too. You never know who you’ll meet.
So promise yourself that before you leave any event—a company picnic, your friend’s wedding, a kid’s soccer game, a big industry function—you’ll introduce yourself to at least three new people. The bigger the event, the more people you must target.

Be realistic. You’re not doing this because you’re always looking for someone to help you. You’re doing it because it’s a savvy habit for anyone who cares about professional growth. Not everyone you meet will have all the answers, or even any answers, but always be willing to put yourself out there.

It should go without saying that you must volunteer to reciprocate. Look for opportunities to extend a hand to others even when there isn’t an obvious favor in return. Step out of your comfort zone when giving and receiving. You’ll be glad you did.