Tips and Tools for Introverted Networkers
As career professionals, we work with clients who are experiencing various levels of introversion. In fact, we may be introverts ourselves. How does an introvert get past the angst associated with getting out there and networking? For the ‘diehard’ introvert, the very thought of being in a room filled with strangers is enough to break them out in a cold sweat. Many introverts normally don’t even like to think about networking! I can easily identify with the nervous networker. I was recently confronted with the fact that I would have to rub elbows with other professionals to find my next job. I’ll admit…I cringed. “Can’t I do it all online?” I wondered. The answer, unfortunately, is ‘no.’ It’s not to say that some of the work and relationship building can’t be accomplished online, but for the most part, human connections are incredibly important and absolutely necessary. Here are a few tips for breaking the ice and getting out there:
Sometimes we, as introverts, get a bad rap. People think we are weird, strange, shy, aloof, or just plain stuck up…the list goes on. None of these are true, of course. Yes, we may be quieter. We prefer to observe, absorb and reflect. And many introverts tend to prefer one-on-one and small groups rather than large crowds. We tend to gain our energy through solitary activities like writing, gardening, reading, sitting quietly with the family dog, or just daydreaming. Our minds are rich tapestries of thoughts and ideas. Some of those ideas never come to fruition, but no matter, we enjoy the process of thinking, pondering and letting our minds go. Acknowledging these worthwhile characteristics is the first step in preparing a client for the task of networking.
Quiet people have the loudest minds.
Suggest that your clients reach out in advance
For many introverts, anxiety goes hand in hand with networking. Your clients may have thoughts racing through their heads such as: “Will I forget to say what I want to share about myself?” or “Will I sound unprofessional or inexperienced?” For hardcore introverts, this can be enough to make some turn tail and run as quickly as possible to the nearest exit. It’s often challenging for introverts to initiate a conversation with strangers, especially at large networking events filled with the buzz and excitement of multiple conversations. Encouraging your clients to reach out in advance of an event can help. I had a similar experience recently when I reached out to a couple of individuals I met through my husband before attending a career networking support group. After first connecting with them on LinkedIn, I knew what faces to look for in the crowd when I arrived. It gave me a sense of calm to walk up to them and introduce myself in person. Immediately, I felt more at ease. Yes, I was still nervous, but it wasn’t so bad once I made the initial connections.
Rewards always help
Empathy is a good thing. Let your client know it’s probably going to be draining to some degree. You understand there will be multiple conversations taking place, many of which may be overwhelming or hard to participate in at times. As an incentive, tell your client to promise him or herself something special after conquering the event…something like a scoop of peanut butter chocolate ice cream (or whatever sweet treat makes you smile!) Reinforce positive coaching: “You will get through it, and you can spend some quality time with You, recharging your batteries after the event.” Stress to your clients that they do not schedule too many events too close together…maybe one a week for starters.
Learning to set and achieve goals by starting small
Start with small, realistic goals. It could be as simple as walking up to a perfect stranger and introducing yourself or handing your card to someone and briefly discussing what line of work you’re interested in. It’s surprising how many people genuinely want to help you, and if you allow it to flow naturally, it will. A larger goal to strive for eventually would be to boldly chime in on a conversation when sitting in a group with a speaker. Tell your client that if he or she has something substantial to add, to stand up and speak his or her mind.
I think a lot, but I don’t say much.
Keep in touch with your contacts
It’s very important to stress to your clients to keep track of individuals they have met and companies they have contacted. It could be as simple as reaching out via email a few weeks after the networking event to check-in and ask what’s new. We can also build relationships through social media…but it takes time and finesse. If someone likes you, they are much more willing to do things to assist you. You can build friendships and networks through many forms of social media, but it takes talent, time, and commitment.
I am an introvert…and that’s
One of the biggest takeaways is this…don’t stress about being an introvert or try to magically whip yourself into an extrovert at networking events or parties. There is something to be said for quietly listening and absorbing. And we all know that most introverts are great listeners. Encourage your clients to take it all in and when comfortable, contribute to the conversation…allowing it to occur organically rather than forcing it. Tip: It’s probably a good idea to start a one-to-one conversation first, and then add another person or two to your circle. When we feel comfortable with the individuals we’re talking to, people might not even recognize us as introverts!
Although networking for introverts may look slightly different, these strategies have merit and introverts can become successful with networking if given the time and flexibility. Remind your clients that their unique introverted strengths will be appreciated, to just be themselves, and to let their inner light shine through. This may be the impetus to get out there and start networking.
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Eryn Loney is an enthusiastic master’s-level professional and certified Career Development Facilitator (CDF) with over 20 years of experience assisting clients with their career counseling and job-related transition needs. She’s certified in Veterans Behavioral Health Care and Mental Health First Aid. Eryn is passionate about helping others achieve their professional, personal, and educational objectives through positive psychology and targeted coaching.
Eryn is an individualist who prefers to approach life in a not so traditional manner. Her husband likes to refer to her as a free-spirited fairy flitting around with a wand in one hand and a feather in the other. Um, what? If you need a friend to listen, care and nurture you, call Eryn. She’s a lover, not a fighter.
If Eryn were a TV character, she would be a bewitching blend of Elaine Benes, Lisa Simpson and JD (John Dorian.) She is committed to drinking as much chai tea as humanly possible every day. Eryn doesn’t have a typical philosophy for dealing with life, other than sometimes it’s absolutely necessary
to spray whipped cream directly into your mouth (and repeat as needed.)