Most people agree that networking is critical when you are looking for a job or wanting to change careers. Experts report that anywhere between 50-85% of jobs are filled through networking. That's great news for people who are outgoing and confident, but what if you are an introvert who hates networking?
As a career coach, I work with lots of people who consider themselves introverts, helping them build self confidence, practice networking skills, and find career solutions. If the whole idea of networking makes you want to crawl back in bed and pull the covers over your head, here are my biggest pieces of advice about how introverts can network successfully.
First: Change the language
For some people, the problem starts with the word "networking." If this word makes you cringe, re-frame the whole process. Remember that networking is, at its simplest, creating new connections in order to share ideas. Instead of focusing on what you hate about networking, think about what you like about meeting new people. When asked, even my introverted clients tell me that there are parts they enjoy - maybe it's sharing new ideas, hearing about someone's career advice, or talking with someone one-on-one. Identify the part of networking that you enjoy - sharing a new idea, meeting someone new, etc - and then call it that instead of “networking”. You'd be surprised at how much a re-frame helps make networking more approachable.
Second: Do it YOUR way
A client recently told me, “I hate small talk.” I say: give yourself permission to network in the way that works for you. It's not a race or a competition, so create new relationships at your own pace (as long as your pace isn't standing still!). Think slow and steady, with time to recharge your energy in between events and conversations. In addition, make the process fun for you. If you prefer one-on-one meetings, then put your time into scheduling those instead of going to large anonymous gatherings. If you like getting out in nature, then ask the person you are meeting to go for a networking walk instead of meeting for coffee. Create your own rules about how to network.
Third: Use the buddy system
Most chores are more fun when done with a friend, and networking is no exception. Think of someone you feel comfortable with who might be willing to lend moral support, and ask him or her to come with you to an event. The buddy system helps in two ways: first, you will have a better time. You'll have someone to chat with when no one is around, and someone you can use as an excuse to end a conversation. (Just make sure you don't spend all of your time with your buddy.) Second, having a buddy is a great way to ensure accountability. After all, most of us are more likely to do things when other people are holding us accountable. Knowing that you promised another person that you would go to a networking event will make you much more likely to follow through.
Finally: Don't forget to celebrate
I believe that progress happens as we move from success to success. It's imperative for us to be kind to and encourage ourselves, especially when we are being brave and trying things that are outside our comfort zone. Being an introvert and networking can be a really courageous act - so make sure you celebrate every step you take. Called someone new? Celebrate! Walked into a room where you don't know anyone and had a conversation with someone new? Celebrate! You get to choose what celebrating means to you. It can be as small as watching a favorite show or as big as going out to dinner.
The most important thing to remember is that you can do it. And the more you practice, the more you will develop effective communication skills. Even as an introvert, you can have success in building new professional relationships. And with this advice, maybe you'll even enjoy it.
Deb Elbaum is a coach, author, and speaker who loves helping professionals create change with confidence. Before becoming a coach, she trained as a physician and worked as a medical writer. She is now in the business of helping people be effective, calm, and confident in all parts of their life as an Executive, Leadership, and Career Coach. She lives in the Boston area with her family, and is an active and enthusiastic Toastmasters member.