By: Ayusha Mahajan
Networking. Is it the skill of charming people, at its core? Or perhaps an isolated act that takes place in an isolated room with the scent of social skills? Neither, actually. A truth it took me a while to realise. How many of you have ever felt personally victimised by social interaction? We socially anxious people are a bit paradoxical: we let people we barely know into our heads because we think they know better, but also view them as potential threats who must be pleased. We tend to sound the alarms when the person in front of us appears anything less than pleased.
But did you know that we tend to self-sabotage a bit more too? According to a study by Budnick et al, positive feedback during interviews is more likely to result in poor performance for socially anxious people, because it goes against their negative beliefs about themselves. This becomes an issue when it comes to interviewing for jobs! Because you think itna kaam toh kiya hi hai, why not steer it in the right direction?
Having a warped and falsely legitimate perspective on the world has had me treading it as if it were seconds from falling apart. Countless hours spent practising plastic people-pleasing pleasantries have kept my relationships from being authentic. Professional collaboration, while rewarding, takes a dysfunctional amount of energy when more time is spent scrutinising my performance. “Listen to me write,” I wish I could say when prompted to introduce myself, and “Watch me listen,” when urged to participate. It feels a bit lonely - like standing outside a massive aquarium wall, except the fish tap on their side of the glass for amusement.
If you’ve been alive long enough to find all this relevant, congrats, you have an identity. Now to give it some justice. Diversity isn’t just a hip buzzword - if Elle Woods from Legally Blonde could use her 4.0 GPA, Sorority leadership skills and status as a “friend to the animals as well as a philanthropist” to get into Harvard Law, there’s little stopping you. My interviews went more smoothly when I seasoned my practical skills with the more unique reasons on why I have them. Words are easier to tame when you care about the topic, no? Trust me, being honest with yourself will make it that much easier to advocate for yourself.
Second, don’t let external stimuli or other peoples’ moods affect your confidence. “Ah but here’s the catch,” I hear you say, “I’m so in tune with others’ emotions, I am the tune!” And while that can certainly be helpful, it also tunes out the more important task of making your own tune memorable. If you feel overwhelmed, narrow your focus to something concrete: three things you’ve been interested in doing lately, or one thing you’ve improved on. Remember, people need you just as much as you need them, and as my therapist continues to remind me, if they didn’t, she would be out of business.
Some hands-on suggestions:
Chances are you didn’t get here the way a pandemic student hops from bed to desk, so don’t be afraid to tell a story instead of an elevator pitch.
Practice your speech. This will make you more aware of your conversational tone and whether or not it feels right with your personality.
Do some informational interviewing so you’re informed on your industry and can ask better questions.
Listen! People forget how important listening is to conversation, and as masters of vigilance, we corner the market on paying attention.
Finally, keep reminding yourself that you are not an isolated set of skills and achievements, and other people are but the same.
It’s like Lizzo said: “Once I learn how to choose myself and be completely validated by that choice, I’ll put the trigger in my hands and not in the hands of others.”