A How-To Guide to Networking for Introverts
7 tips for enhancing your job search and professional development if you're networking-adverse
Networking can be a daunting task for most people. Introverts, who often prefer solitude and tend to avoid large gatherings, hear the word networking and think it means “working a room” or dominating a conversation while standing in a huddle with confident corporate sharks.
Even many extroverts are put off by the concept of networking since it seems self-serving and fake. For them it might conjure the thought of making forced small talk or biting their tongue among people whose political views are frequent and jaw-dropping.
Whether you’re a self-identified introvert or simply networking adverse, however, networking is a crucial aspect of career development. The good news is that anyone can make networking a more comfortable experience by utilizing different strategies that cater to their personality type. By taking a tailored approach, you can make friends and advance your career at the same time.
Here are seven tips for helping the networking-adverse and introverts to network effectively:
1. Explore personal interests. In the remaining tips I will include ideas that give you the chance to investigate and deepen your personal interests as much as you do your professional ones. Much of the fear of networking is rooted in the idea that it will be boring or awkward and feel like a waste of time. Networking can and should be a chance to meet people with whom you have things in common. Even if you are an engineer or a middle school principal, you are more likely to forge a meaningful connection with someone who shares a personal interest like kayaking, knitting, fly-fishing, or watching premium television shows; the woman with whom I share my office and I socialize regularly and spend more time discussing HBO’s Succession than we do our shared counseling profession. Read Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone for more networking strategies that feel genuine and life-enriching.
2. Leverage technology. Harness the power of technology to connect with others. Join professional online communities, attend virtual networking events, and use LinkedIn to connect with others in your industry. This can help you connect with like-minded individuals in a more comfortable and low-pressure environment. Facebook groups abound for every interest, from professional pursuits like entrepreneurship, film production, and UI/UX design to personal interests like Handmaid’s Tale discussions, glamping, and live-music karaoke. Facebook is arguably better than NextDoor at uniting neighborhoods in some ways – I spend as little time on Facebook as possible yet dearly love a Facebook group called Montavilla Eats & Drinks dedicated to the enjoyment of restaurants in and around Portland’s Montavilla neighborhood. LinkedIn groups skew more professional, but can offer the chance to set up informational interviews in a field you hope to explore further. There are even online networking events and classes that let you expand your knowledge base and cultivate relationships in both professional and personal spheres. If a class feels like too much of a commitment for a personal interest like writing or genealogy, look for a less formal group that meets online regularly in real time. Groups like this are centered more on inspiration and connection and can nicely round out a solitary pursuit like writing. Willamette Writers, for instance, offers a weekly event called Coffee at Your Kitchen Table that gives writers a chance to check in and discuss their writing projects with others. (If you’ve ever thought to yourself, I’m an introvert who is likely to be close friends or married to another person I will likely never meet because they, like me, are at this moment curled up in front of a fire with a book and glass of wine, online classes and groups might be the perfect place for a friendship or romantic meetcute to happen!)
3. Attend small events. Large networking events can be overwhelming. Instead, attend smaller, more intimate events that allow for one-on-one conversations. This way, you can focus on making a deeper connection with a few individuals rather than trying to network with a large group. The best connections I’ve made through networking have been from these smaller networking events, often advertised as coffees, happy hours, book groups, or roundtables.
4. Prepare in advance.
Introverts and the networking-adverse often do better when they have a plan in place. Before attending a networking event, research the attendees and plan out whom you might want to talk to. This will help you feel more confident and purposeful and less likely to be milling around the appetizer table filling your plate with broccoli and carrots you have no intention of eating. And here’s a tip I once learned from a networking-confident friend – instead of asking a person you’ve just met, “What do you do?” (yawn), ask them, “What is the next big thing that you’re working on or planning to do that you’re most excited about?” Even if that person is out of work, it’s likely that they’re planning a fun vacation, taking a class, or plotting out a side hustle, and their answer will be more likely to deepen the conversation’s engagement. And be prepared for an answer to this question in case they ask it of you!
5. Be a great listener.
Introverts tend to be excellent listeners, and this can be an asset in networking. Use your listening skills to build rapport with others and show genuine interest in their career and interests. This attentiveness will help you establish a strong connection with others and make a positive impression and enhance your own enjoyment of the exchange. If you have room for improvement in your ability to listen well, here’s a trick – counselors are trained in a technique called reflective listening in which you paraphrase what someone has just said to you. It sounds annoying, I know, but it really does work if done skillfully. It’s akin to note-taking in a class. As you re-phrase something someone has just said to you, it takes on more meaning and signals to the other person that you actually comprehend (or are at least are trying to comprehend) what they just expressed. If this is an untested strategy for you, practice with a friend (without telling them) before employing it at a networking event. See if it improves the conversation and feels natural. In the same vein, ditch the people at networking events who aren’t good listeners – those people who scan the room to see who else they can talk to, talk more than they listen, or don’t ask follow-up questions that indicate genuine engagement. Good conversations involve an equal back-and-forth between and among individuals. Remember that there are people who enjoy the sound of their own voice more and are trying to foster an audience to their oh-so-fascinating opinions. But you don’t have to feel like you’re a captive audience. Feel free to move on to someone interested in having a truly reciprocal conversation.
6. Follow up.
After a networking event, follow up with the people you enjoyed meeting. Whether it's via email, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, or a phone call, reaching out to others helps keep the connection alive and can lead to future opportunities for friendship and camaraderie. If you make a true connection with someone, ask them if they’d like to get coffee sometime before you part ways and then follow up within the week. You’ll then likely be in a more comfortable setting for yourself and possibly on your way to forging a friendship or at least a strong collegial relationship.
7. Reach out for coffee dates and other interactions with past colleagues and friends.
We all have people with whom we used to work, go to college, live next door, play kickball, or meet for drinks regularly. COVID had a way of dissolving or straining many of our regular get-togethers, but it’s time to get out there again. I am 100% sure that all of us have someone we haven’t seen since early 2020 who would love to hear from us. Pick up the phone, tablet computer, laptop, or Apple watch today and send them a text/phone call/email asking them to lunch. Brain scientists tell us that even reaching out to other people improves our mood, whether they respond or not. So what are you waiting for? Important Note: Since I like to keep my eye on non-traditional networking events, it seems remiss not to mention Creative Mornings, which has chapters all over the country and features online and in-person networking events focused on a range of creative media and topics. Portland’s chapter offered an impressive array of online events throughout the COVID pandemic that continue to offer stimulating, outside-the-box topics and is holding its first in-person event since 2020 at Ziba Auditorium on February 24. It is free and features illustrator Elizabeth Haidle; registration starts on February 13.
Kristin Schuchman, MSW is a career counselor and author based in Portland, Oregon who works with creative and mission-driven professionals. She writes resumes and coaches individuals seeking support for career indecision, next steps, work re-entry, advancement, starting a business, and work-life-balance. She offers a free 30-minute Zoom or phone session and presently works with clients remotely. You can find her books The DIY Website Workbook and Jump Start: How to redirect a career that has stalled, lost direction or reached a crossroads on Amazon.