Helping Clients Overcome Their Fear of Networking

By Kristen McLaughlin

Networking is an activity that most career practitioners encourage as part of a client’s career development or job search, but it is often the subject of fear and resistance (Williams, 2020). Even when presented with information showing the value of networking, many clients may still prefer to skip this important step.

Getting to the Root Cause of the Fear

By understanding a client’s interpretation of networking and their past experiences with it, practitioners can help improve the client’s frame of mind and frame of reference. Career practitioners can ask questions to learn why the client fears networking:

  • What does networking mean to them?
  • What has been their experience with networking?
  • Why do they dislike networking?

Career practitioners may find that clients believe one or more of the following networking misconceptions:

  • They believe they have no network.
  • They have not had to network in their career.
  • They believe they are not good at networking because they identify as an introvert
  • They feel networking is about attending large events or reaching out to people they don’t know (Graebner, 2020).

Reframing Networking

According to The Meriam-Webster Dictionary, networking is “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business” (Merriam-Webster.com, 2024). Many people often focus on the “exchange of information,” but neglect the “productive relationships” piece of this definition.

Practitioners can help clients understand that networking is simply about building relationships and connecting with other people. Although clients may reach out to their network in their personal life, they often do not think of it this way.

To reframe the client’s thought, career practitioners can ask their client, “In the past month, have you done any of the following:”

  • Asked a friend for a recommendation for a restaurant?
  • Requested a referral from a family member for a service provider, such as a dentist or auto mechanic?
  • Asked another parent to recommend a summer camp or babysitter for their child?

These examples can help a client think about networking differently, including maintaining and building relationships with people they already know, as well as making new connections.

To reframe the concept of professional networking, career practitioners can ask their client, “In the past six months, have you done any of the following:”

  • Connected a friend to an open job?
  • Shared a book recommendation relevant to a colleague’s career?
  • Reached out to a colleague for advice on a professional situation?
  • Had coffee with a former colleague to reconnect?

Chances are that most clients have done one or more of these activities without realizing they were networking.

Addressing Networking Fears

Once clients have a better idea of what networking is, practitioners can start to dive into specific client concerns.

  • If a client had a bad experience with networking, how can it be different this time? Why was the experience not what they ideally wanted? Ask the client to describe the situation in detail.
  • If a client feels they never had to network during their career, what might be the first step they could take?   
  • If a client has not kept in touch with their network, how can they reconnect? If it has been a number of years since a client has been in contact with a former colleague, do they feel comfortable reaching out? Would reviving the relationship be beneficial to both parties? 

Istock 1189301950 Credit Ridofranz

The career practitioner can then use this information to work with the client to develop the following action steps.

1. Create a Networking Strategy

First, the practitioner needs to understand the client’s goal for networking.

  • Are they looking to advance internally and create more connections within their company?
  • Do they want to change jobs?
  • Are they looking to pivot or change careers and need more connections in a different area?

Other considerations when creating a strategy include:

  • The client’s personality style and preference for type of networking: Are the client’s personality preferences more extroverted or introverted? Do they like meeting new people or attending events?
  • Concerns around confidentiality: For clients who may be conducting a confidential job search, career practitioners can work with the client to identify contacts they trust who would be supportive of their job search while maintaining confidentiality and discretion. 
  • Goals around networking and time management: Goals may include the number of people the client wants to reach out to each week, the number of professional groups they may be able to engage with, or how much time they can spend each week in networking meetings or calls.

Practitioners can then work with clients on networking activities tailored to their goals, such as:

  • Reaching out to a new connection on LinkedIn
  • Asking a friend for an introduction to someone in their network
  • Asking for recommendations for a course that could be helpful to their career
  • Joining a professional development association
  • Joining an internal networking group or employee resource group (DiBenedetto, 2022)

2. Role-play the Networking Conversation

Role-playing the networking conversation can be a valuable exercise for clients who want to feel more comfortable with the process. Before a role-play, practitioners should help clients prepare for the conversation as if it were real. This includes researching the person with whom they will be speaking and the company where that person works, creating a targeted list of questions to ask, and practicing talking about themselves and why they are seeking the conversation.

3. Take Action

One of the most important steps in the networking strategy is for the client to take action. With practice and preparation, each new conversation will become easier, moving them one step closer toward meeting their career goals.

By getting to the root cause of the fear, reframing networking, and using the three strategies outlined above, career practitioners can help clients move forward confidently in their networking efforts. 



DiBenedetto, M. (2022, February). The importance of internal employee networks in career development. Career Convergence. https://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/419230/_self/CC_layout_details/false

Graebner, R. (2020, June 19). 4 myths about networking you have to stop believing. The Muse.

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Networking. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved February 9, 2024, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/networking

Williams, J. R. (2020, March 27). Why you’re afraid of networking (and what to do about it). Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2020/03/27/why-youre-afraid-of-networking-and-what-to-do-about-it


Kristin MclaughlinKristen McLaughlin, founder of KM Career Coaching & Consulting, empowers professionals to create fulfilling careers by defining what they value most, owning their strengths, and achieving clarity on their next career steps. Kristen earned her MBA and Executive Coaching Certificate from Case Western Reserve University and is a Board Certified Coach. She is a member of professional organizations including the International Coach Federation, Cleveland Chapter and Career Thought Leaders. She can be reached at linkedin.com/in/kristenmclaughlin/ or kristen@kmcareercoaching.com.

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Sharla Taylor   on Thursday 03/07/2024 at 02:08 PM

Kristen, Nice article. I agree that too many people focus on the exchange of information instead of building productive relationships, which makes networking feel transactional rather than relational.

Kristen McLaughlin   on Sunday 03/17/2024 at 10:30 PM

Thanks, Sharla!

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.