An Introvert’s Survival Guide to Networking
Even introverts can succeed at networking events
Networking can be intimidating even to extroverts, so it’s especially rough for introverts to navigate their way through such an event.
It is essential to network, however, if you want to be a success in business. Most new jobs and business leads come through word-of-mouth, so it’s all about who you know.
Here are the best strategies for introverts to use when networking so that they can make it through with a minimum of discomfort and maximum benefit.
Keys to networking
The realization that networking is necessary for an introvert often comes when a disruptive event has occurred at work or someone is looking for a new job, according to Roy Cohen, a self-describe introvert, who is a career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide.
“Networking is an activity that people either love or hate. There are no shades of gray. If you prefer not to put yourself out there, it is easy enough to find excuses not to. I have worked with numerous clients, many of them introverts like me, to help them build a robust and dynamic network. It is stressful for us but the results prove that change is possible. Or, at the very least, that networking can coexist with the desire not to,” Cohen said.
Here are Cohen’s best tips:
Outsource your networking. If we have a significant other, it is not unusual to establish a relationship with an individual who is complementary; in other words, our opposite. I have found that introverts tend to be drawn to extroverts. So, if your significant others are fearless, allow them to serve as an advocate and to actively network on your behalf among friends and family. But make sure that they are not operating in fear or desperation. Be clear on what you do professionally so that they are best equipped to explain it. Their messaging will make a difference if it is clear, concise, and not fear-based.
There is a tendency to withdraw when faced with an activity we prefer not to engage in. Or alternatively, we approach networking with virtually no commitment or passion and naturally the results are disappointing. Generate activity but do so with intention. For example, join LinkedIn and other social networking sites and ramp up your universe. It takes time but has the potential to produce enormous returns. People who join are generally more networking-minded and receptive to being contacted. So, you are reaching out to people who don't need to be convinced and who will make the process less painful.
Volunteer. Try to be industry and job specific if possible so that the time you spend giving it away has the potential to introduce you to people who may hear of opportunities. And if you take on a leadership role, like chairing a committee, it will offer visibility. If it is not industry specific, it still gets you out, gives a feeling of short-term accomplishment, and may introduce you to other volunteers who have access to information.
Play to your strengths
Dr. Kerry Schofield, co-founder and key designer of the psychometric model behind Good.Co, a self-discovery app that helps users discover their personal career strengths and career tips, said that it’s a myth that introverts can’t be good at networking and that some of their natural advantages are strengths in this field:
Less is more. Introverts are often seen as more sincere, thoughtful, and reliable; unlike strong extroverts who might talk a lot but not say much, an introvert will often choose their words carefully and only speak up when they have something meaningful to say. If what you say is relevant, well thought out and expressed in a friendly way, people will be eager to hear more from you, and will seek out your opinion with much greater interest than they would the extrovert who's been talking up a storm all evening.
A good listener is worth a thousand words. You don't have to be a motor-mouth to network effectively. Active listening is a highly successful way of encouraging people's trust and friendship. Active listeners can be full participants in the conversation without saying more than a few well-placed words. They encourage the speaker by nodding agreement, putting in a short word or phrase such as 'yes' or 'right' or 'wow!', smiling, and making eye contact. Most importantly, an active listener really pays attention to the speaker, which is another advantage for the introvert – extroverts love to talk and are usually thinking about what they are going to say next rather than listening to someone else. A sincerely interested listener will often come across as more approachable, warm, and trustworthy than a smooth-talking charmer who is obviously looking for an opening to get their own word in.
Know yourself and the rest will follow. Introverts tend to be introspective and self-insightful; they can learn to play the game in a social setting in a controlled, intelligent, and deliberate way. They are less likely to lose their inhibitions and make promises they can't keep, exaggerate wildly, or make inappropriate social advances. Also, having an introverted hobby such as reading can be beneficial: many introverts tend to be book smart and curious, and have plenty of information stored up on a wide range of topics, perfect for breaking the ice and making small talk at social events, and great practice for retaining key facts and figures for that crucial pitch. Geek is chic.
Pitfalls to avoid
Dr. Schofield said there are also several potential pitfalls for introverted networkers to avoid.
“Social anxiety and burnout are much more common risks for them than extroverts, and women are especially at risk because in some ways they're playing a double game: while in reality men and women each cover the full spectrum of introversion to extroversion, being female has historically been associated with more introverted traits, while being male is associated with assertiveness and confidence,” Dr. Schofield said.
“This may create a dilemma for some women, especially those who work or have interest in traditionally male-dominated fields like business and science. They may feel that in order to get ahead, they need to project a masculine persona. This can potentially make networking a more complex affair for women,” Dr. Schofield said.
The key is to know yourself, Dr. Schofield said.
“Introverts aren't all made the same. People can be introverted by nature for different reasons, the main three being shyness, a dislike of too much excitement/stimulation, and genuine preference for their own company. Some introverts actually love being around people, but find it stressful or overwhelming, which can lead to loneliness and frustration. This is very different from the type of introvert who simply takes no pleasure in being with others, and therefore is quite genuinely happy to be alone, but may be quite capable of socializing when necessary,” Dr. Schofield said.
By being prepared, and knowing a little about the setting and the type of people you’ll be meeting, you can be more comfortable. And then, once at the event, take it easy and, if loud noises and warmer-than-normal temperatures bother you, as they do some introverts, avoid drinking too much coffee or alcohol and go to the event well rested to feel your best.
“Get some fresh air, fake an urgent phone call, even go hide in the bathroom – for an introvert, brief 'recharge breaks' can be very valuable, and give you the energy you need to keep going,” Dr. Schofield said.
Most importantly, be yourself. “If you're uncomfortable with the fake camaraderie of air kisses and all those over-the-top self-aggrandizing anecdotes – don't do it. Your own style will always serve you best if you know how to use it,” Dr. Schofield said.