Do you enjoy solitude? Do you keep a small group of close friends? Does being around large groups of people become exhausting? If you answered “yes” to these questions, you may be an introvert. According to Psychology Expert Kendra Cherry, introversion is a personality trait characterized by a focus on internal feelings, rather than relying on external sources of stimulation.
If you’re an introvert, you may prefer to keep to yourself or spend time with small crowds of people. The idea of meeting strangers at a networking event may strike you as an incredibly dreadful task. It’s a departure from your comfort zone as you set out into the unknown. On top of being nervous, the pressure to make meaningful connections can cause knots to form in your stomach. There are times when it’s easy to make friends, and other times when it’s a monumental task. I just sent my daughter to kindergarten on Monday. The first day of school is like the first time my clients go to a networking event after I have coached and prepped them. Ultimately, I know they’re brilliant, have a lot to offer, and they will eventually meet the right people. I’ve given them the tools they need to convert these connections into job momentum. However, I still fear someone will break their heart or spirit. It’s hard enough putting yourself out there, and I want their networking experience to be validating and uplifting.
Recognizing your own strengths as an introvert can make networking enjoyable. There are a variety of tactics you can use to make connections and gain momentum in your job search.
Preparation makes perfect
Do your homework before attending any networking event. Plan out an agenda for the day and focus on who you want to talk to, how many people you’re comfortable meeting, and what outcomes you want from each conversation. Take a moment to mentally rehearse your conversations. To make starting conversations easier, write out your thoughts and questions ahead of time. Also, consider a few ice breakers, such as asking about current events that are relevant to event attendees. Asking about current events is a great way to learn, in addition to establishing yourself as an industry leader with whom people will want to keep in touch. (Keep the topics neutral and steer clear of political or religious events.) Prepare a list of questions on professional topics and trends for industry events. If you’re nervous, it may be difficult to remember what you want to say, you can maintain focus by putting your thoughts on paper, or in your phone’s notes app.
If possible, obtain a list of attendees and research them prior to the event. You may find some people to be more interesting than others. Make a note of the people who interest you and spend time with them during the event.
You can make approaching people easier by:
- Hanging out by the refreshment area and meeting people there. It is an area where most people will naturally gravitate to and it takes less effort to approach them.
- Meeting people while in the bathroom allows you to escape from the crowds and have a (mostly) private conversation. One caveat: You don’t want to get stuck having an entire conversation in the bathroom or make the other person feel cornered. If a conversation starts in the bathroom, keep it brief, or move it elsewhere.
- Look for lone attendees and strike up a conversation with them. Without having to complete with attention from other attendees it may be easier to connect. Break the ice by opening with how difficult it can be to start a conversation. Then steer the conversation toward industry-related events.
- It may even be possible to connect online with a person of interest you researched before the event to let them know ahead of time that you would like to meet.
Get to know others
Ask people about themselves, as this can open multiple conversational doors. Try talking about any mutual interests. If you’ve researched a person ahead of time and are now seeking them out, you can learn about their interests through their social media profiles. Let them know you’ve read about them online and how your interests align. For example, you both may be avid fans of a particular sport, a music group, a book series, or you both may feel exceptionally passionate about your work. If you’re just meeting a person for the first time, ask about their interests and share whatever you have in common. As you start conversations, don’t forget to be a good listener. Also, ask others for their advice and opinions.
Don’t go alone
Consider bringing a friend along to a networking event. Attending events in pairs enables both parties to promote each other rather than having to promote yourself. If your friend is more extroverted, he or she may be able to take the lead and aid you in making introductions. This feels more comfortable to a lot of people, and by enabling other people to build excitement about your value, you’ll be able to prepare for the meat of the conversation. That is, how you can demonstrate your value to others, discover any problems a person may have by asking questions and offering a solution. Your friend also can discuss how you have helped them and vice versa.
Asking about employment is expected
If you’re actively looking for a job, ask others what you can do for them. Find out what projects they’re working on and if you’re able to assist them. The point is to learn about others and to demonstrate your value, which is a key part of building your network and obtaining interviews. It’s okay to mention that you’re looking for a job and asking for support, resources, and introductions. These types of requests are what people expect from networking events. Pinpoint exactly what you need so others can help you, and make requests as a standard part of your agenda for all networking conversations after you’ve offered to help someone.
Keep it brief
Hans Eysenck, a German psychologist theorized that the brains of introverts process more information per second than extroverts and high simulation environments can overwhelm and exhaust an introvert. Arrive early, so you can stay ahead of the crowd and leave early or take a break before feeling exhausted. Introverts can feel like they’re expending a lot of energy at networking situations or even at parties. In contrast, extroverts often feel their energy rising in large crowds. Introverts need to recharge once they feel a drop in energy, or they risk not putting their best self forward.
Lingering too long with one person can bring on boredom and a sense of discomfort, but you also want to create a worthwhile connection. Only you can determine the length of time that feels appropriate. Focus on having meaningful conversations with people you feel synergy with and stay with them until you feel comfortable moving on to the next person. After you make your connection, schedule a follow-up. Try to commit to a date on the calendar. If this isn’t possible, then give a commitment about when the follow-up will occur. This may be as simple as e-mailing a few dates on good times to connect during the week. If you’re responsible for initiating the follow-up, make note of the commitment before moving to the next person. Also, take notes to keep track of each new person you meet and jot down a few points from your discussion. This will make the process of following up easier.
Think outside the usual networking box
Try networking at smaller venues if large crowds make you extremely uncomfortable. I often gradually introduce networking to my introverted clients. Their comfort zones are continually expanded until they feel more comfortable in a large group setting. Some clients have so much success with small groups that they never have to subject themselves to larger groups. (There are benefits to networking with larger groups that I’ll get to in a moment.) Networking doesn’t always look like a lot of people gathering for professional reasons. Gatherings to engage in hobbies can enable faster rapport and deeper relationships. The difference between networking and hanging out is that these relationships are leveraged for professional gains. That is, nourishing and nurturing your network in order to reap the by-product of a bountiful harvest that comes in the form of leads for new opportunities. There’s is nothing wrong with this type of networking, as many people love to help, especially people they like.
In order to help your network grow, you can create a powerfully branded value statement. A value statement informs others about your priorities, professional beliefs, and goals. This statement helps people quickly understand what you do, for whom you do it, and how they can present a great opportunity for you.
Small crowds and one-on-one meet-ups still count as networking. You can network without ever having to be in a large group of strangers, but by avoiding large crowds, you risk limiting your expansion and exposure to opportunities. I encourage you to try meeting with a large group of people twice, then practice twice more and by the fifth time you’ll feel a lot more confident, as long as you are approaching it from the perspective of meeting and making new friends. I have some clients start small and work their way up to larger events.
By playing to your strengths, networking can become manageable and even enjoyable for introverts. Can you imagine the joy of connecting with new people who share similar interests to you and are a part of your industry? Can you imagine mastering networking in your own way? New doors can open and those open doors can bring job momentum and the ability to land faster. When people become skilled, avid networkers, they achieve what we call “Career Autopilot,” or the ability to be sought out by employers and quickly land the job of their choice.