1 : a shy person who does not find it easy to talk to other people
2 : one whose personality is characterized by introversion; broadly : a reserved or shy person
3 : someone who dreads career fairs, professional conferences, and other networking events
OK, so that last definition may or may not come from the dictionary, but it still applies.
Many introverts, myself included, struggle to grow their professional networks (and, therefore, their careers) “organically”. You know, through face-to-face interaction. This is perhaps not surprising, given that introverts don’t generally jump at the chance to meet new people in the first place.
It’s not that we’re antisocial; it’s just that we tend to prefer people in smaller doses.
Believe it or not, if you’re an introvert you can still learn to network with the best of ’em. It will just take some practice. The following seven techniques will help you get started.
1. Use your online network to your advantage
As an introvert, you’re probably much more comfortable building your professional network online than the “traditional” way. That’s actually a good thing. You can use your online connections to help build your network in the real world.
“Connecting with people online before you meet them can be really helpful,” suggests Cynthia Johnson, partner and director of marketing at RankLab. “Connect with other event attendees on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and social media platforms before an event. Connecting prior to meeting allows for you to feel less alone when you arrive. Familiar faces, even if they belong to a stranger, can be really comforting.”
In addition, you may also find new events to attend by making connections with people from organizations that you belong to.
2. Join an association and become a regular
Speaking of belonging to a professional organization, there are literally thousands of professional associations made specifically for people working in almost any industry you can think of. There are probably quite a few you never even thought existed.
Joining a professional association that aligns with your personal career goals, interests, and areas of expertise is a stellar way to meet people in a “safe” environment where you can feel a little more comfortable mingling.
Chances are you’ll run into plenty of likeminded individuals who like to talk about the same things you do. And, the more regularly you attend events, the more you’ll see familiar faces, which is something all introverts need. You may even opt to serve on an association’s committee, making you the person others will want to approach for advice.
3. Find the other introverts in the room
Anyone who’s anyone in the professional world will tell you that networking isn’t just about getting what you want out of the experience; it’s about helping others get what they want, too.
There are lots of introverts in the world, and there’s a good chance some of them will also be at the event you’re attending. If you’re struggling to find someone to hit it off with, start gravitating toward the wallflowers in the room. There’s bound to be someone who’s just as uncomfortable in this situation as you (perhaps even more uncomfortable than you), so capitalize on that comradery.
You never know; breaking the ice with a fellow introvert could not only help put you at greater ease, but it may open the door to job offers in the future.
4. Ask and listen
If you’re like most introverts, you generally don’t like talking about yourself, especially with strangers. It might sound crazy, but that might actually be an asset rather than a hindrance at a networking event.
How, you ask? Well, for starters, no one likes people who yammer on about themselves endlessly, even at a networking event where people are delivering their elevator speeches left and right.
Secondly, your reluctance to talk about yourself forces you to ask other event attendees about themselves. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, pretty much everyone appreciates a good listener. Showing genuine interest in others by asking about their work and personal interests can help you build relationships of trust that—who knows?—may lead to your next job opportunity.
You’ve probably found at stressful moments that you tend to tense up, your heart begins to race, and you start to hold your breath—sometimes without noticing until your brain kicks in and screams at you, “Hey! I need air … like right NOW!!!”
It’s bad enough if you come off high-strung or totally out of your element, but the last thing you need is to pass out!
Controlling your breathing by taking long, deliberate breaths can help calm your nerves and make you appear more confident. If necessary, find a quiet area where you can close your eyes and collect yourself for a few minutes. Breathe deeply in and out until your heart rate goes back to normal. Remind yourself why you’re there in the first place, and then return to the event with renewed vigor.
6. Work with a professional career counselor
Working with a professional career counselor or advisor is perhaps one of the best ways to improve your networking skills.
Career counseling sessions provide you with a low-stress opportunity to iron out the wrinkles in your people skills. It’s also a great way to practice interacting with people at a networking event and optimize your efforts to achieve your personal goals. Ask around in your community to see what career counseling resources are available.
If you’re a college student looking to jumpstart your career, many schools offer career counseling in one form or another. Independence University, for example, includes professional Career Services assistance to students at no additional charge.2 IU’s Career Services can help you improve your résumé, brush up on your interviewing skills, and learn the secrets to effective networking so you can begin your job search with greater confidence.
7. Last but not least: Smile (and try to have a good time while you’re at it)
Never underestimate the power of smiling and having a good time, because, let’s face it: work isn’t all about work. And neither is networking. Employers use networking events among other things as a sort of litmus test. In other words, it’s a test to see whether you might be the kind of person they’d like to work with.
Let’s just put it this way: Would you want to work with someone who comes across uptight and standoffish? Probably not.
When asked, don’t be afraid to talk about some of the cool things you like to do or have done. Share some of your accomplishments from both in and outside the workplace. There’s no need to brag or dominate the conversation, but don’t shy away from opening up about yourself a little, either. Some networking events are more formal than others, but it’s almost never a bad idea to just relax and enjoy the conversation.
And who knows? In addition to making some valuable career connections, you may end up fast friends with someone you meet!