Networking. To some, the thought evokes excitement — fancy dinners, cocktail parties, lively conventions, and the chance to meet all the right people. To others, it’s practically a nightmare — crowded rooms, constant noise, and having to make endless small talk, all in an effort to further their career.
The cold, hard truth is that the networking process naturally favors people who are extroverts: those who effortlessly make friends and can spend hours on end being social butterflies. Introverts, however, find socializing to be draining. This is why introverts consider the very idea of networking to be so dreadful that they often avoid it altogether.
Now, don’t get me wrong; introverts aren’t entirely devoid of social skills. Most introverts have a close circle of cherished friends and spend plenty of time with their loved ones. That said, they require extended periods of solitude to re-energize and can become completely overwhelmed if they have to be “on” for too long. Obviously, this can make networking slightly difficult.
Whether we like it or not, networking is one of the most important things we can do for our careers. According to an infographic from Arizona State University, 70 percent of people in 2016 were hired due to a connection within the hiring company. That is a massive percentage — and definitely not something you want to leave to chance. If you’re an introvert (like me), the trick is to find ways to network that don’t leave you feeling totally spent. Here’s how to do just that:
If you happen to have anxiety that’s exacerbated by work functions, consider using grounding techniques, such as deep breathing or taking a walk, before you attend any crowded functions.
Another way to keep your cool is to figure out exactly what it is you want to talk about ahead of time and practice your elevator pitch in front of the mirror. Beyond selling yourself, choose two or three topics you’re knowledgeable or passionate about and use them as ice breakers.
Bring a Friend
Spend an afternoon alone in a room full of strangers? No, thank you. The very idea is enough to keep the majority of introverts away from big networking events. But here’s the thing, you don’t have to be alone! You’re always free to bring a friend — and if you bring an extroverted one, they can do double duty! Not only can your extroverted friend break the ice with new people, they can also introduce you to others (so you don’t have to do it yourself).
Go for the One-on-One
While going to a big event is a great way to meet people, not all networking has to be done there. We introverts often find it difficult to form deep connections with people when we’re in loud and busy environments. Rather than struggling to bond with people in a group setting, have short conversations with as many attendees as possible and ask for their contact information so you can follow up later.
After the event, reach out to set up a lunch or coffee date. Sitting down with your contacts individually and getting to know them in a controlled setting will work more to your strengths. Speaking of playing to your strengths, if the thought of face-to-face interactions makes you queasy, consider reaching out via email. Many introverts who tend to clam up in person find their personalities shine through in writing far better.
Ask a Lot of Questions
When you’re chatting with your contacts — whether it be in person, through email or over the phone — ask as many open-ended questions as possible. Listening attentively is one of the most important things you can do when actively networking. Most people like to talk about themselves, and since introverts are natural listeners, we can be the engaged audience they’re looking for!
Make Time for Yourself
Since introverts need time alone to recharge, it’s important to make sure you’re taking multiple breathers during your event. If you’re at a conference, escape to your hotel room between sessions. If you’ve been interacting with other attendees for hours, skip the group dinner or happy hour. Step outside for 10-15 minutes a few times throughout the day and go for a quick walk. Knowing — and respecting — your limits will keep you refreshed and help you survive your event intact.
Look for Online Groups and Communities
The thought of introducing themselves to strangers is a terrifying prospect for many introverts. And, if you have social anxiety disorder, networking events can be especially frightening. If the whole in-person facet of networking events is just too much to bear, have no fear — there are other options. Living in a digital age means networking has gone online!
Take some time to find online communities related to your industry (and goals) and start making valuable connections! All you have to do is spend 10-15 minutes per day posting worthwhile content, answering questions, and reaching out to other members with resources you think they might find helpful. You’ll find that when these groups are managed properly, beneficial relationships form in the blink of an eye.
Networking is necessary if you want to advance in the business world. Fortunately, there are ways for introverts to use their personalities to their advantage. You don’t have to fill a rolodex to be successful at networking. All you really need to do is to develop strong relationships with the right people — those who can help grow your career. Focus on your strengths, respect your boundaries, and follow the beat of your own drum. Before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to building a solid network.