Networking in the UK when you lack confidence in your English-language skills

Networking is oft-cited as the most effective way to find a job.  Your university careers service will probably have resources on how to do this. However, as an international student, networking with people in the UK can seem daunting regardless of how much you practise your English language skills. The following activities can help:

1) Identify your specific worries

Filling out the table below will help you identify each of your specific worries so you can start to address each:

Situation you are worried about How does this make you feel? What emotions do you experience? What thoughts go through your mind? How does this affect your behaviour?
E.g.Speaking to new people in English E.g. Scared E.g. I will say something wrong. I will make a bad impression. E.g.I won’t speak to anyone new in English
E.g. Not completing my LinkedIn profile to a good enough standard because of my lack of writing skills. E.g. Embarrassed, hurt E.g. People will laugh at or criticise my profile E.g. I won’t use LinkedIn

It is natural to want to avoid situations that might cause negative emotions. However, doing so means negative thoughts are as bad as we anticipate.

2) Test the validity of your beliefs and thoughts.

Using the list above  –

  • For each situation, and think of examples of similar activities that would be less stressful. For example, if you are worried about speaking to someone new in English in a networking setting, you could consider; speaking to students on your course that you don’t know; networking with people who speak your native-language; practising speaking in professional English with a member of the Careers Network; practise asking questions you might ask in the mirror.
  • Give each situation a score out of 100 as to how anxious it makes you feel.
  • Reorganise the list by score, i.e. highest score at the top.
  • Make a plan to do something that ‘exposes’ you to the situation with the lowest score, to test if your beliefs and thoughts are about are correct.
  • Before you undertake any actions, it may help to consider the following questions:
    • How much do you believe this thought? (0-100%)
    • What do you think will actually happen? How likely do you think this is to happen? (0-100%)
    • What else might happen? How likely do you think this is to happen? (0-100%)
    • What may stop you from completing this activity?
    • How can you overcome these potential difficulties?
  • Try the activity, and reflect on what happened. How does this compare to what you predicted? What are the consequences of what happened? How did you feel at the end compared to the beginning?
    • For example, if you felt you would be embarrassed practising networking questions, did you actually feel embarrassed once you got into it? If you did feel embarrassed, did the other person notice or react negatively?
  • As you feel more confident in an activity, repeat the process for the next item on the list.

By doing these activities, your beliefs and thoughts may change in a positive way. If they don’t, there are two other options to consider:

3) Inference Chaining

This technique basically explores how bad something might be. At the most basic level, this entails repeatedly asking ‘what would then happen?’. For example, feeling embarrassed by ‘messing up’ a networking opportunity –

I didn’t create a good impression and feel I failed.
What would then happen? That person won’t help me in the future.
What would then happen? They will probably forget about it eventually. I will get over it eventually too.
What would then happen? It doesn’t affect me speaking to people at other companies, and now I’ve tried once I know how to improve next time.
What would then happen? I’ll find other people to speak to, and will practise where I need to improve so I am more confident next time. Maybe I will read the Careers Network resources to help me prepare more thoroughly.

Following this will help you keep events in perspective and also identify what you need to do to improve next time.

4) Rewards

Networking can be tiring, so schedule into do something fun after you’ve tried some networking activities – regardless of how good or bad they’ve gone. This will help your wellbeing and motivation.

Christian Jameson-Warren, Loughborough University