Do you cringe when you think about networking? Whether you love it or hate it, networking is an essential skill that could pay huge dividends in your career.
For example, networking can help you land a promotion, or find your dream job at another company. If you’re in sales, networking can help you connect with lucrative new clients, or build stronger business relationships with the clients you already have.
If you have an outgoing, extroverted personality, networking is probably easy and enjoyable. However, those of you with introverted personalities probably find networking to be awkward, overwhelming, or even painful.
Does this mean that introverts have to forgo all the benefits networking has to offer? Definitely not. As an introvert, you can learn to like networking, and even excel at it. You simply have to do it in a way that uses your unique strengths.
What Is Networking?
Some people (many of them introverts) have negative feelings about networking. The assumption is that networking means being pushy and insincere, trying to “sell yourself” to others, and handing out as many business cards as you can.
While that’s one stereotype, it’s certainly not what networking is about.
Put simply, networking is all about building mutually beneficial relationships: finding people who you might be able to help in some way, and who might someday be able to help you in return. That’s it.
When you think about networking this way, it might start to feel a bit less intimidating. Your goal is not to shake hands and make a lot of small talk; it’s to take an interest in other people so you can find out what you can do for them.
Your goal is also to favor the few over the many. While extroverts excel at starting conversations and keeping them going, introverts are often better at building deeper relationships with fewer people. When it comes to networking, having a small handful of genuine relationships will always trump having a social network full of contacts you don’t know that well.
The Many Benefits of Networking
Do you own your own business? Are you just out of college and looking for your first real job? Are you at the top of your career but dreaming of doing something different?
It doesn’t matter what field you’re in or where you’re at in your career, networking can make a huge difference in your life. Here’s what networking has to offer.
1. Find a Mentor
Networking can help you find the right person to guide you through your career and grow into the leader you’ve always wanted to be.
A good mentor can show you how to lead and how to overcome challenging situations, teach you how to take measured risks, and provide a different perspective when you’re feeling stuck. They’re a sympathetic and intelligent sounding board for your problems and ideas. Knowing that you have someone like this – someone who’s got your back – can greatly increase your confidence.
But finding someone whose skills and personality fit well with your own isn’t always easy. However, if you have a strong network, someone, somewhere, might be able to recommend the right person.
2. Find a Partner
Imagine you have a great idea for a new business, but you know you can’t go it alone.
Networking can help you find the right business partner. If you share your ideas with contacts and colleagues, you might find that one of them has the strengths and skills that would perfectly complement your weaknesses, and vice versa.
3. Find Great Opportunities
The great thing about building a network is that it opens you up to opportunities that you might never have heard about otherwise. People in your network might pass along information about possible new clients, upcoming job openings, public speaking or other marketing opportunities, and much more.
Even better, referrals and opportunities that are passed along through your network are usually high quality. For example, you’re more likely to get a job when you already know someone in the company who can give you a recommendation to the hiring manager.
People like being helpful, and if they know your situation they’ll do all they can to give you a leg up. However, a good relationship needs to be in place for that to happen.
4. Experience Other Perspectives
Your network consists of a pool of people whose experiences might be vastly different than your own; these people can provide insight and advice that enables you to look at your situation in an entirely new way.
You can also benefit from their example. When you’re networked with people you like and respect, their habits can inspire you to work harder, do better, and make a positive difference in the lives of others.
5. Build and Strengthen Your Reputation
Introverts are famous for keeping their heads down and doing their work alone. Of course, there are many benefits to this working style: Introverts are often great problem solvers and idea generators because of their affinity for solitude.
However, this working style can also be a hindrance at times. If no one hears about your great ideas or solutions, then you won’t see the benefits of all your hard work. This can hold you back in your career and affect your confidence.
When you have a strong network of people you like and trust, you’re more inclined to talk about the work you’re doing. This builds your reputation and makes you more visible to industry leaders and other top decision makers.
Networking Tips for Introverts
So, you’re convinced that networking might be worth your time. But how do you do it without feeling awkward or insincere?
The trick for introverts is to step out of the “networking box,” which was, by and large, developed by extroverts who crave the spotlight and stimulation found at so many networking events. As an introvert, you have to match your networking approach to your unique strengths and do things a little bit differently.
1. Look at Your Existing Network
Everyone has a network. Even if you’re a closeted introvert who works from home, you have a network.
Stop and think about all the people you have a relationship with: your colleagues at work (both past and present), your friends from college, your neighbors, your favorite barista, other parents at your son’s preschool – the list could go on forever. You likely know a lot more people than you think, and all these people are part of your network.
Your first step to networking is to start actively cultivating these relationships. This doesn’t mean you’re going to start pitching your business idea to the woman next to you while you’re waiting to pick up your son. It simply means being aware that you might be able to help some of the people you already know, and that they might be able to help you in some unexpected ways as well.
For introverts, it’s far easier to maintain existing relationships than it is to build new ones. So, start with the people you already know. Take an active interest in what’s going on in their lives, and look for ways you can help them overcome challenges and obstacles. You’ll find that, over time, they’ll reciprocate tenfold.
2. Be With Others at Your Best Time
Everyone has their own unique rhythm, and only you know when you’re at your best.
For example, if you’re a morning person, then it’s likely that by 6pm your mood and your energy are on a downward spiral. You’re ready to curl up on the couch with a glass of wine and a good book. Attending a 7pm networking event will only leave you feeling drained, overwhelmed, and frazzled. This is definitely not the best time for you to try and connect with new people.
However, attending a breakfast with a small handful of others would probably yield better results. During the morning you’re more energized, optimistic, and open to new experiences. You’d likely have more success connecting with new people during this time.
Think about how your energy levels rise and fall throughout the day, and only select networking events that coincide with when you’re feeling your best.
You also need to schedule in some downtime after attending an event with new people. Introverts often feel drained after interacting with others, even those they know well, and it’s important that you have some quiet time afterwards to recharge.
3. Choose Events Carefully
There’s a good reason why so many networking events are held at large restaurants or noisy pubs. These familiar venues can help people feel more relaxed and comfortable, making it more likely the event will be a success.
Many extroverts love the stimulation and noise that comes with a crowded venue. Introverts, on the other hand, can quickly get overstimulated by the excess noise and movement. This, in turn, can leave them with the overwhelming urge to hunker down in the corner or leave. Sounds familiar, right?
As an introvert, think carefully about the venue and the number of people invited, and choose only those that will make you feel comfortable.
For example, a networking breakfast at a huge conference center with 800 attendees might send you into a panic attack when you walk through the door. On the other hand, a low-key event at a wine bar might be easier for you to make meaningful connections.
Of course, these are not absolutes. It can be beneficial to attend larger events occasionally, and as you get more comfortable with networking, you might find that larger events pay off in higher rewards. However, in the beginning, you’ll increase your odds of success by being selective and attending events that allow you to shine.
4. Set a Goal
Long before you walk through the door, identify your goal for the networking event. Why did you choose this particular event? What do you want or need to get out of it?
Setting a goal might sound self-centered, but the truth is that everyone is attending for a reason, including you. You need to figure out exactly why you’re investing your time and energy here.
For example, an industry leader you admire might be attending, and you’d love to meet her. Check her LinkedIn profile and other social media feeds to find out what’s going on in her career. Perhaps you can uncover a problem or issue that you could help with.
As this example shows, you can use your stated goal to better prepare for the event. Having a goal will also help you direct your energy instead of just “showing up” to meet people.
5. Use Your Natural Skills
“At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or did, but they will remember how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou
One of the most important skills you can bring to a networking event is the ability to listen. And, as most introverts are naturally good listeners, this gives you a serious advantage.
You already know that when you give people your full attention and really listen to them, it makes them feel good. The ability to listen is an increasingly rare commodity, so you’ll stand out by simply doing what you do best: being an attentive and compassionate listener with the people you meet.
Another important skill that many introverts possess is contemplation and thoughtfulness. A thoughtful piece of advice can help others uncover hidden solutions or see a different perspective.
You’ll quickly become a trusted resource when you help other people in some way. This is a big part of what good networking is all about: You’re forging human connections, not trying to get something out of everyone you meet. Focus on helping others first, and you’ll find that they’ll repay your kindness.
Last, focus on quality, not quantity. You’ll find it exhausting to try and “work the room,” meeting as many new people as you can. Introverts are best at forging deeper, one-on-one connections. Identify three or four people, at most, who you really want to meet and concentrate your efforts here.
Tip: Introverts are energized by being alone, which is why they can feel drained at larger networking events. When you start to feel frazzled or overwhelmed, step outside for a short walk. Taking a break will give you a quick recharge so you can come back and present your best self to others.
6. Follow Up
When you make a connection with someone at a networking event, follow up with them the next day. You can call them to see if they want to meet for lunch, send a thank-you card for the stimulating conversation, or connect with them on LinkedIn.
A follow-up is courteous. It also sends a clear signal that you’re interested in building the relationship further.
7. Broaden Your Ideas About Networking
Networking involves much more than simply attending networking events with others in your industry, or even complete strangers.
For example, when you write an article for your company’s blog and respond to reader comments, you’re networking. When you connect with someone on LinkedIn or Twitter, you’re networking.
Look for ways to network that are not as emotionally draining as meeting new people face-to-face. Connecting with others online can be a great way to initiate a relationship, and then you can meet later after you’ve had a chance to get to know the other person.
You can also host your own networking events to further increase your comfort level. For example, you could invite a few close friends and a couple of people you’d like to meet for a relaxed dinner at your house. Or, you could form an impromptu business group to meet weekly or monthly at a local coffee shop.
Hosting your own networking event can be an incredible opportunity, not only for you, but for other people. You can help forge relationships and create opportunities for the people already in your network. They’ll appreciate the opportunity, and you never know who will return the favor.
I started my first business when I was 24. One of the earliest decisions I made was to join the Chamber of Commerce so I could attend the networking events they held every month. As an introvert, I knew I would hate going, but I thought that was the best way to grow my business.
For me, these events were a complete disaster. The days leading up to the event were filled with nervousness and dread, and once I was there I couldn’t do anything more than stand against the wall, hoping I didn’t have to talk to anyone. I didn’t make a single meaningful connection.
Now, 15 years later, I have a much better sense of my strengths and weaknesses. For me, small, quiet events are much more beneficial than trying to connect with a bunch of strangers. Using the power of the Internet, I’ve been able to connect with people who’ve made an enormous difference in my life and career.
The point here is that there’s no right or wrong way to network, but it’s definitely worth your time and energy to find a way that works best for you. The people you meet and the connections you forge can transform your life in myriad ways you can’t predict. You might even meet a lifelong friend or mentor along the way.
What networking tips and tricks have worked best for you? What do you find most challenging about networking?