If you’ve looked for a job recently, you’ve probably heard the word “networking” more times than you can count. Teachers, counselors, employers and career coaches emphasize networking as the most important tool for job seekers. After all, connecting with other professionals is the most common way for people to land a job.
If you’re an introvert, however, networking is a term that might cause you some undue anxiety. Extroverts thrive in social situations, but introverts are drained by social encounters. Being introverted does not necessarily mean you’re shy — it simply means you prefer to spend more time alone than with others.
As an introvert, you’re not naturally outgoing, so you may not have as much practice with putting yourself out there and talking to strangers. The following tips will help you feel more comfortable while trying to build your network and find that dream job offer.
This is a no-brainer if you’re planning for a conference or some other networking event, but you can network at any time in any place. You never know when an everyday conversation will turn into a professional opportunity.
Start by considering your professional goals — who are you and what are you trying to accomplish? Prepare an elevator pitch and have business cards and résumés on hand. Anticipate questions employers may have for you. Practice your answers and rehearse speaking confidently.
If you’re attending a networking event and you know some big names in your field will also be there, consider connecting with them on social media, such as LinkedIn, beforehand. Research them and their companies, so you have some talking points and questions to ask. This is exactly how I was able to connect with financial advisor and author, Keith Springer. As a personal finance writer, it was a huge encouragement for me to be able to connect with him.
Use Your Existing Connections
A good way to get your feet wet is to network with people you already know. Talking to friends, family members and other known contacts about your career goals is not only good practice for networking with strangers, but it’s also perfectly valid networking by itself. Even if the friends and family you talk to aren’t in your desired career field, they may have connections who are. Sometimes I tag along with my friends’ or family’s networking functions because A) there’s free booze and B) there’s free food. No, but seriously – whether it’s a meeting, banquet, conference or convention – tag along when you can, you’ll be glad to have someone you know with you to help with your nerves.
Additionally, look into your college or university’s alumni network for people working in your field. They joined because they want to help fellow students and alumni succeed.
Ask For Introductions
When you meet someone at a networking event, ask if they know anyone else there and if they would be willing to introduce you. This is a great way to meet others without having to approach them alone. Having someone take the time to introduce you to their colleagues also establishes some credibility for you before the conversation begins.
You can also bring a buddy with you to an event, so you can have one another’s backs while networking.
Smiling is a simple way to gain a networking edge. You’ll seem more approachable, and people may be more inclined to strike up a conversation with you rather than you having to initiate it yourself.
A natural smile is also shown to help you relax and de-stress. You’ll seem more confident when you smile, which is a quality employers value.
caption: Make sure your smile is genuine.
Play Introversion to Your Advantage
While not necessarily socialites, many introverts are talented listeners. People appreciate it when you show sincere interest in them and the things they do. When you meet someone, introduce yourself, ask lots of questions and then listen attentively.
As you listen, pay attention to the other person’s interests and successes and compliment them. Not only will they be flattered, but they’ll return the favor when the conversation turns to your own strengths and goals.
Before you end a conversation, ask for their contact info or their business card.
Be sure to follow up within 24 hours. Don’t go home and toss the business card into a drawer and forget about it. They gave it to you for a reason. Shoot them an email. Arrange to meet up for coffee or for a phone or Skype conversation.
The idea behind networking is to create a network of people with whom you continuously communicate and develop professional relationships with.
One mistake that many inexperienced employees make is assuming that they’re annoying to more experienced professionals. They will apologize for taking up someone’s time.
This kind of apology does more harm than good. Saying sorry implies that there is something for the other person to be unhappy with. It makes you come off as unconfident.
This doesn’t only apply to networking events. Many people are happy to share their expertise and wisdom. Never assume they don’t want to talk to you. They were likely in your shoes once and know what it’s like to look for a job.
If you get rejected, don’t take it personally. It’s not your fault if someone isn’t friendly. Simply move on to the next person.
caption: You can’t win ‘em all.
You don’t have to pretend to be outgoing in order to network. If you’re awkward, shy or humble, these aren’t personality flaws. Consider them your endearing traits.
If you have a passion for something, talk about it and own it. Join clubs and attend events that revolve around your interests. You’ll meet like-minded people and create organic networking opportunities that you might not have expected.
Networking is a skill, and like any skill it requires practice. Once you’ve taken the first step and applied these tips, you’ll find that being an introvert can never stand in your way.