I am an introvert by nature, and not at all comfortable with putting myself into networking conversations. I know networking will help me get a new job so I really want to overcome my fears. Do you have any tips on networking for introverts?
You are not alone in your anxiety about networking. Many extroverts cringe at the idea of meeting strangers and striking up conversations where they will have to talk about themselves. But, there are plenty of shy people who master the skills of networking by practicing and then using specific assets to their advantage.
Assess your strengths. Introverts often are often good listeners, which helps to build deep and meaningful relationships. This quality is an enormous asset relative to developing strong networking skills. Think about how you can use it to your advantage as you talk to people about who you are, what you have to offer an employer, an how you might help them.
Next, think about a larger networking strategy. You may be more comfortable starting with a one-on-one strategy rather than utlizing to networking events that attract hundreds of people and may be overwhelming.
To get one-on-one meetings, create a list of places where you can find people with whom you would like to network. This list could include alumni associations, professional associations, health clubs, family and friends. Categorize each group or person on the list by connections that are easy, moderate or challenging to make.
Give yourself goals - develop a networking plan that details who you will call and email, how many people you will contact per week and how you will approach the request for a meeting. Research and create a list of specific contacts and start with the easiest people on your list. They will provide great networking practice in addition to being helpful for your search.
Before making other calls, research the person’s professional credentials and connections. Develop a “want” for each contact so you are clear on what you want to communicate about your professional history and goals and about how they can help you succeed. Prior to each meeting, script a list of questions you want to ask, so you can get the conversation flowing and calm your nerves.
During each meeting, give the person your 60 second professional statement to set the context for the conversation. From there, you can ask for their feedback on your resume, their perspective on industry or market trends, and advice on your job search strategy. Also, ask them about their professional path and what they have learned from their job search processes.
Use every opportunity to build rapport. If the contact mentions something you feel is a mutual interest (professional association membership, leisure activity of interest, family, etc.) use that as an opportunity to further the conversation based on those common interests.
Finally, towards the end of each meeting, ask for recruiters and other professionals they recommend you meet and see if they are willing to make an introduction for you. You can offer them a few company names or names of people you’d like to meet to make it easier for them to make referrals.
Thank them for every offer of help or suggestion they provide, even if you already know the contact or have tried what they have suggested. Most importantly, differentiate yourself from others by offering to help your networking contact by providing a “give” from your network.
Networking can be stressful, but with a little practice you may even come to enjoy it, or at least the success it brings.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is a partner and the general manager of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.