Networking for introverts is uncomfortable, to say the least. If you identify as someone who values your alone time, likes people in small doses, and you’d rather work overtime on a Friday night than introduce yourself to a roomful of strangers, you are probably an introvert. Naturally reserved, the large group gatherings typical of networking events are uncomfortable, even though you know they are good for your career.
So, if you’re an introvert and find yourself back in the job market or you need to network for career advancement, what is the least painful way to jump into networking? Create a plan and set goals you can live with, follow the plan, and follow up afterward with your new contacts on your own terms.
Create a plan and set goals. It sounds simple, but planning out your networking strategy helps you keep your goal in mind and makes tolerating the discomfort much easier.
- Master plan – You need a new job or a promotion, map out how many events you’ll need to attend to achieve your goal (This is a great discussion to have with a Career Coach).
- Event plan – Set a goal for each networking event, such as have a meaningful conversation with three new contacts and exchange contact information or converse with small groups until you can find one person you can help (offer advice, suggest another contact) and exchange contact information with them. Remember, it’s not effective networking to shove a card at everyone attending the event without any real conversation.
- Research – Do a little research on each networking event, the individual or group hosting the event, and ensure you’ve researched the position or organization you are targeting in your master plan, too.
Follow the plan. Follow your master plan by scheduling networking events into your calendar, preparing for the events, and don’t forget to build as much comfort as you can into the whole process.
- Be prepared – Preparation reduces stress in social situations and makes you look confident and competent. Ensure you have plenty of current business cards, a good suit, and practice your introduction, handshake, and elevator pitch. Consult a Personal Branding Coach or do your own research so you’re ready to market yourself.
- Plan to be social – Practice asking a few open-ended questions such as “What do you do?” or “What is your view on (industry issue)?” Smile, look people in the eye, and plan a simple conversation ender such as “I wish you luck, it was nice meeting you.” for conversations you need to end effectively. Keep your hands free; hang your coat, don’t bring a briefcase, turn off your cell phone, and put your cell and cards or card case in your pocket so you don’t have to juggle to shake hands.
- Anchor – Bring an anchor with you, someone familiar who is comfortable in social situations and knows you aren’t. It’s not a hardship for them, chances are, they’ll appreciate the networking opportunities, too. Why bring an anchor? Introducing someone else is an easy way to gear up to introducing yourself, and having someone familiar to chat with in between strangers can give you a much-needed break. Agreeing in advance to refill your coffee and check in with each other every 15-30 minutes is an easy way to build those breaks into the event for both of you.
- Reward yourself – When you reach your goal for each event, celebrate with a polite, strategic retreat. If your goal was to exchange conversation and cards with three people, you can make your farewells and go home after the third. By all means, stay if you’re enjoying yourself (it does happen), but allow yourself the freedom and joy of retreating when you’ve earned it!
Follow up on your own terms. You do need to follow up with the contacts with whom you made connections, but you can choose how to follow up. When you do the follow-up, you have more control over the conditions and that will always feel more comfortable for you.
- Make a note – When you collect cards at networking events, jot down a question, concern, or topic you shared with each person. If you worry you’ll forget too quickly, jot it down on the card right after the event. When you follow up, you’ll be able to use the info as an icebreaker.
- DO follow up – You make contacts who may be of use to you in the future, and to whom you may be able to offer assistance. Follow up with those contacts so that they get to know you and become part of your network of friends and colleagues. Networking is more than just card exchanges.
- Control the terms – Make the follow up connections easier on yourself by keeping it simple. You don’t need to host a large event. A phone call or email after you’ve researched a solution to an issue you discussed is not only appropriate, but has value for your contact. Inviting two contacts from an event for drinks or a meal can be lower stress for you and offers additional networking advantages to your invitees. Plus, “I’d like you to meet (name) from the event last week, I think you’d both benefit from knowing each other” offers value to your contact and is so much easier to say than “I’d like to get to know you better” which can be awkward, even for extroverts!
While networking for introverts is difficult, it can be done, and can be a very effective part of your career strategy and job search. Give yourself plenty of credit for networking efficiently and effectively!