I am not a fan of networking. I think it is mostly because I am in introvert. Over the years in the professional world, I’ve had to do my fair share of networking, even if I didn’t want to. The reason I networked is simple: I feel that to progress in the professional world, it is more about who you know than what you know. This isn’t dismissing what you know, but you have a much great chance at landing a job if you have someone on the inside pulling for you.
In any case, networking for introverts is tough to do. We are naturally shy, quiet people that can get very awkward in social situations, and awkwardness when meeting new contacts and colleagues can be a problem. Because of this, I created this guide, networking for introverts. It will help you, the introvert, overcome most pitfalls when networking and help you overcome your fear of networking – at least a little bit.
Networking For Introverts – Your Guide
The first thing you need to do is homework about yourself. You need to understand who you are as a person. What types of events do you feel most comfortable? When do you feel most comfortable around others? By taking the time to understand who you are and what your strengths are, you can take much of the fear and anguish out of networking.
Personally, I hate going up to people I don’t know and striking up a conversation. I just can’t do it. So I had my former boss take me under his wing. I would shadow him and he would make the introduction and start off the conversation. When he would leave to work the room, I had something to continue the conversation with.
Also for me, I am not good at a networking event that just has people standing around talking. I need an outlet for my nervous energy. I found a few networking events where the emphasis is on doing an activity. This is perfect for me as I am able to focus more on the activity and let the networking part be the side act. Don’t take this as I ignore the networking aspect, it’s just that I am better able to talk to others when I have an outlet for my nervous energy.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Once you know yourself, you need to pick a networking event. When you pick your event, be sure to do as much research as you can. What type of event will it be? Who will be the majority of people there? This is your chance to come up with some ideas or questions you want to ask others. I found the more work I did before the event, the smoother the night went.
Networking for introverts can quickly become overwhelming. I know enough about myself to know when I need to take a break. There have been many times when I will run to the restroom even if I don’t have to go to the bathroom or will go outside for fresh air. These breaks allow my mind to reset itself and for me to get my emotions back in check.
I come back to the event after a few minutes feeling refreshed and ready to go. I even take breaks at large family gatherings. There are times when I just need to get away for a few minutes and recharge. Extroverts might not understand this, but it is because as introverts, we are taking a lot of information in (more in this later).
Because networking for introverts is difficult, we tend to judge ourselves harshly on what we say and do. You need to stop this. It only adds pressure to the situation and makes things worse. I’ve been guilty of this many times. I’ll be talking to someone and pronounce a word wrong and will internalize it and focus all of my attention and energy on it. I block out what the other person is saying. When I come back into the conversation, I lost my train of thought and have nothing more to say.
Realize that we are all human and make mistakes. No one will stop talking to you if you mispronounce a word or do something weird. Many times, you are the only one that notices. Next time you do something that you think everyone saw, stop for a minute and look around. Chances are almost everyone is focused on something other than you, meaning no one saw it.
As introverts, we are always processing information about our environment. This is why it is so hard to focus on one thing at times. When it comes to networking, you need to learn how to focus on the person you are talking to. Giving that person your undivided attention says a lot about you as a person and goes a long way. I know that when I have someone’s undivided attention, I feel better about myself.
When I am out networking, I use a subtle trick to keep me focused on the person I am talking to. Many times, there will be something off to the side that is trying to get my attention. All I do is shift my body to block out that thing and I am better able to focus.
Have An Exit Strategy
Give yourself permission to leave the networking event when you have had enough. For extroverts, it’s easy to stay out all night talking and making new contacts. With introverts, this is not the case. There comes a point in time when we have had enough and we need to leave. Staying past this point is oftentimes pointless as you won’t be focused or interested.
Tell yourself that it is OK to leave the event when you have had enough. But don’t allow yourself to leave right after showing up. Make it a point to interact with a handful of people before leaving. As you attend more events and become more comfortable, you can interact with more and more people.
Use Social Media and Email
I can’t stress this one enough. As introverts, our weakness is talking with others. But our strength is being thoughtful and caring. Networking using social media and email is a no-brainer for introverts. This isn’t to say that you can skip the networking events altogether, but to follow up with the person(s) you met electronically. It is much easier to continue the new relationship through LinkedIn and email than it is to go out and meet the person again.
Even though I said above that email and social media cannot replace networking for introverts, you can still use it to network. In my last job, we were trying to reach out to accountants and attorneys to build up referrals. I was able to find a handful of local accountants and attorneys through LinkedIn and contact them with an introduction via email. I landed a huge number of networking meetings for my boss this way. I never went on the meetings myself, I just did the dirty work as they say.
I was able to take my time and compose thoughtful emails to these professionals and they responded positively to me.
Networking for introverts can be very scary. Trust me, I’ve been frightened to go to networking events so much that I turned around on the way to the event. But when I sat down and took the time to better understand myself and create a strategy for networking, it became much easier to handle. I am still nowhere near a pro when it comes to networking. But, if you are an introvert and are fearful of networking events, then following the tips for networking for introverts above, you will be able to handle networking that much more. And who knows, the next person you network with could offer you your dream job!
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