Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Tips for Networking as an Introvert

Being an introvert does NOT mean you don't have social skills. However, it does mean that being around lots of people at one time can be draining. In general, introverts actually have many advantages when it comes to networking. They enjoy real conversations (read: no small talk)—and can still make connections in a myriad of contexts. If you consider yourself an introvert who has resisted networking, try these top 10 networking tips:

Join the crowd. If people seem to be congregating in one area, join them and strike up a conversation.

Set reasonable expectations. When attending an event, prep yourself mentally for what you are there to do. Is your goal to meet more people? Is it to learn more about the organization's culture? Is it to meet one or two specific people? Make sure you set reasonable expectations beforehand, so that you have a goal in mind. It is a great way to keep you from getting overwhelmed, too.

Start a conversation with a loner. It's usually easier to start a conversation with someone who is standing alone, because they will most likely be happy to have someone to talk to—and as a result, are often more personable and easier to connect with.

Avoid barging into groups. A cluster of more than four people can be awkward—and tough to enter. Join the group on one side, but don't try to enter the conversation until you've made eye contact with each person at least one time. Usually, people will make room to add you to the "circle" of conversation, and you can introduce yourself then!

"Look mom, no hands!" Keep at least one hand free at all times! This means no eating and drinking at the same time if you are at a networking mixer or conference reception. This way, you can still shake hands with people without being awkward and fumbling around.

Be yourself. Networking events are meant as starting points for professional relationships. If you can't be yourself—and you aren't comfortable in your own skin, then the people you meet will be connecting with someone you're impersonating, and not the real you. Be genuine. Authenticity tends to attract much of the same.

Be present and engaged. Ever talked to someone that acts like you're the only person in the room? Someone who listens, and makes you feel like everything you are saying is important? I love those people! They really make you feel heard. Keep eye contact, and lean in or tilt your body towards people when you talk to them. Not in a creepy way, but in a, "I'm listening to you, and I'm fully present" kind of way.

Treat people like friends. Unless, of course, you are a terrible friend. Would you go to a friend and interrupt their conversation, hand over a business card, and walk away? No. Networking events are not transactions. Treat new people as you'd treat your friends—built rapport, be trustworthy, and then talk shop.

Follow the 72 hour rule. After a conference or networking event, you have about 72 hours to follow up with a person on LinkedIn or via e-mail. Reference something that you talked about and ask what the best way to stay connected might be. After 72 hours, they just might have forgotten you.

Practice makes perfect. Well, not really perfect. Progress is always better than perfection! The point here is that networking is a skill, like any other professional skill. It is a muscle that you have to develop and grow. While others may look like born networkers, they are more than likely just more experienced with it. Mistakes may happen, but the only way to learn is to get out there and do it!

For more helpful tips on networking check out WGU’s Career & Professional Development Center.

Adapted from The National Association of Colleges and Employers.

7 comments:

  1. It was a surprise to discover that I'm indeed an introvert a few years ago. I'm intelligent and socially thoughtful but have always struggled in groups. These are really good tips and I appreciate them. Thanks!

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  2. I've always been an introvert. Great tips! I will give these a try. Thanks.

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  3. I am an extreme introvert and have spent the majority of the last 30 years isolating myself from people, even family, at times. When you isolate yourself, you begin to lose whatever interpersonal skills you may or may not have ever had. I am painfully shy around people I don't know, but once I get to know people, like co-workers, I don't have any problems. It's the initial part that I find so difficult. Thank you so much for the great tips!

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  4. If you would like to network in the Tacoma, WA area, I would love for you to join me at Ignite-U. It's a great group where you get to talk to a table of 5-8 people, instead of a whole room. Every time you go, you want to sit with people you haven't yet met. Email me if you are interested. mhoosi1@my.wgu.edu

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  5. Excellent article...very motivating! Thank you.

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  6. As an introvert, I feel like these are just "tips for networking" and don't address the difficulties specific to introverts. Introverts will find groups of more than 2-3 people exhausting and aren't likely to "barge in" to any social interaction. Likewise, telling an introvert who has just been to a draining networking event that they MUST follow up in 72 hours is highly likely to result in them not following up at all. This article lacks a complete understanding of what it means to be truly introverted. Introversion, shyness, and social anxiety may all occur in the same person but they are not the same problem. Most introverts are neither shy nor have social anxiety.

    Better tips would be to engage with small groups or one-on-one to maintain their energy, to use networking tactics other than attending large social events, and to have a reasonable game plan for prioritizing and initiating follows up at a rate that matches their energy level. The biggest risk for introverts in networking is getting overwhelmed by too much social contact and then needing a significant period of downtime before they're able to interact again. The trick to networking as an introvert is to pace yourself, know your limits, and be kind to yourself.

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    Replies
    1. Yes - these are great tips, thanks for sharing! Like most things, there is a spectrum or scale of introversion. The better you know yourself and your own limits, the better you can create a plan that works best for you!

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