For as long as business has existed, so too has networking. Picture it: In ancient Sumeria, Ted, a potter, is working away when his pottery wheel suddenly breaks. After cursing the god Utu for a good long while, he remembers a guy down at the bazaar, Dave, makes wheels for a living. Ted decides he is going to go down there and build a network. He strikes up a conversation with Dave, the two businessmen swap some off-color jokes about the folks over in Lagash not knowing a chair from a chariot and, boom, just like that a network is born.
Networking is a vital skill for everyone to master if they want to grow their business or grow within one. But, as easily as networking might come for extroverted people like Ted and Dave, many introverts find it difficult. If you’re among the quiet, thoughtful folks who wouldn’t dream of going to an event and making small talk — even for all the free shrimp cocktail in the world — these simple networking methods will help you get ahead.
Understand Why Networking Is Important
If you don’t understand the point of networking, you’re obviously going to be less motivated to do it. Know that networking isn’t about forced glad-handing with fake friends in hopes that they’ll do you a favor. It’s about building real, mutually beneficial relationships.
“We are social creatures and operate best within a community,” said Kelly Hoey, public speaker and author of “Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships in a Hyper-Connected World.” “Information is exchanged, challenges hashed-out and ideas are spread because of conversations that happen between people. That’s the simple reality.”
Know Yourself Beyond Your ‘Introvert’ Label
At the end of a long day, you want nothing more than to sit by yourself and watch TV or read a book. You’re not one to be out on the town with friends, laughing the night away. So, sure, you might be introverted. However, you can’t use the ‘introvert’ label as an excuse to avoid human interaction, especially when it can be so valuable.
“Spend time giving thought to your interests and whether there isn’t a way to combine it with your need to network,” said Hoey. What are your strengths? What do you like to do?
Use a Fool-Proof Introduction
Half of the battle of networking is striking up a conversation. If you’re at an event, Hoey recommends asking one of the organizers to help with introductions by saying something like, “Hi, this is my first time attending, are there members you’d recommend I speak with to learn more about the organization?”
Introduce Yourself First
Though it seems counterintuitive, making the first move can help you feel more at ease, and you’ll likely be rescuing those around you who are feeling equally tense.
“This is what I refer to as the ‘think like a host’ mentality,” said Hoey, “as the networking reality is most people are self-conscious and nervous about meeting new people.”
Though you don’t need to sell anyone on anything, you can think of introducing yourself as almost like giving an elevator pitch. The more you practice, the easier it becomes.
Volunteer For a Community Service Project
“Schmoozing with strangers is an agonizing activity for many people, so I recommend approaching the task of building a network from a different angle, as there are many ways to meet and connect with people,” said Hoey. For instance, ditch the cocktail parties for a little community service. Everyone likes feeling like they’re a contributing member of society. Whether you’re picking up trash at the beach or planting trees, you’ll likely meet some kindhearted people who believe in making the world a better place.
Join an Industry Committee
Joining a committee, association or other organization within your industry can help you make valuable contacts. For instance, stock exchange Nasdaq has an internal company organization called Women in Nasdaq (WIN).
WIN offers more junior members a chance to ask female senior leadership questions, among other things. Think: Is there a newsletter, culture club or some other organization you can join within your company or industry?
Assemble a Team for a Volunteer Project
Not much of a joiner? Try taking the lead instead.
“Networking, after all, is about relationship building, so why not substitute an activity for the small talk?” said Hoey.
If there is an area you’re passionate about — animals, nature, youth programs, etc. — you can bet that other people are, too. Assuming it is okay with your superiors, try sending out an email invite to your office, asking them to join you for a charity run, clothing drive or some other volunteer project. You can also encourage them to invite others, thereby broadening your network.
Sign Up For a Mastermind Group
Hoey suggested joining a mastermind group for additional networking opportunities. According to the site The Success Alliance, “Mastermind groups offer a combination of brainstorming, education, peer accountability and support in a group setting to sharpen your business and personal skills.” While the site is quick to point out that these gatherings aren’t considered networking events, it notes that it can certainly be a byproduct of attending.
Become a Mentor
Here’s another counterintuitive one for you: Become a mentor. Being a mentee is great, but if you have gotten to a place where you have valuable knowledge to share, forming a bond with someone more junior can be very rewarding both personally and professionally. It doesn’t have to be a formal sit down in which you proclaim you are looking to be the person’s mentor, either. Just read the signs. Is someone asking for a lot of help? Are they curious, passionate, driven, but just need a little guidance? Try lending a hand.
Plus, becoming a mentor allows for meaningful, one-on-one connections as opposed to those awkward, back-slapping conventions.
Organize a Gathering Around Personal Interests
“Some of the best network builders I know are introverts,” said Hoey. “They navigate the noisy world of networking events by skipping them — unless they really have to attend — and instead pursue activities, from blogging to book clubs and small group dinners, where they can authentically be themselves.”
Is Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” your bible? Can’t get enough of Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In”? Then, maybe it is time to find other individuals who want to read those and more. Try hosting an after-work get-together at a restaurant or other shared space. As people become more comfortable, you can invite them into your home if you like.
All that said, when it comes to professional networking, if your personal interests are, say, assault rifles or dowsing fur-wearing celebrities with red paint, you might want to think of another thing to share that isn’t quite so polarizing. Just use your best judgement.
Utilize Social Media Wisely
Social media has allowed people to build wider networks than ever before, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily easier or should be a substitute for face-to-face interaction.
“Rather, consider those platforms as another tool in your networking toolkit to start conversations and further relationships,” said Hoey. “For example, you can get to know a lot about a person by what they post or share online, so observe to see what a contact is sharing before leaping to reach out. In one instance, I noticed a new connection only posted content regarding certain charitable causes. Noticing this, I knew it was something I could ask her about — was she on the board, how did she get involved, etc. — and by doing so, it deepened a casual connection.”
Don’t Rely On Extroverts — You Can Do This on Your Own
Introverts sometimes latch onto extroverts who will do all the talking for them. However, Hoey said that when it comes to networking, this is a mistake. “The best network builders I’ve met are empathetic, considerate and purposeful in their choice of networking activities,” she said. “Those are attributes more likely to be associated with introverts than life-of-the-party extroverts.”
Remember that you don’t need someone to do the talking for you; it’s just a matter of finding something you want to talk about.
Advocate For Others at Work
Networking as an introvert can seem less daunting if you focus on building stronger connections with people you already work with. People tend to respect co-workers and superiors who have a vested interest in their well-being, so, although it might not be in your nature, if you see that someone is being mistreated — perhaps their workload is too heavy or an outdated policy is negatively affecting them — feel empowered to speak up on their behalf. Before you bring things up in a group setting, however, try one-on-one. Ask the person something like, “What can I do to help this situation?” In doing so, you are communicating that you are a trusted ally.
Praise Others’ Work
Similarly, when you see someone is doing a good job, pat them on the back. Praise can be given via a peer-to-peer recognition program at work, a social media post sharing their success — when appropriate, of course — or just directly to them. Never dole out compliments that aren’t 100 percent genuine, however. You aren’t going to build meaningful connections if they’re based on little white lies.
Ask to Keep In Touch With Interviewers and Recruiters
One of the key steps for anyone learning how to network is to do a little follow-up. If you have an interview or speak to a recruiter, be sure to follow up with the person you spoke with, regardless of whether or not you get the job. Send a note or add them on LinkedIn, telling them that you appreciated the opportunity to meet and would like to keep in touch. This is a great way to get the pulse on an industry and have your name be front of mind when new positions open up. You might even find some good jobs for introverts this way.
Plan Your Calendar Wisely
Since you know that being around others can easily drain your batteries, plan your calendar accordingly. Don’t overextend yourself in your quest to build a network. If you sign up for a bunch of activities or volunteer to host something each week, you’ll just wind up regretting your commitments. Instead, try one thing a month — or every couple of months — and go from there. Networking can be done at your own pace, in your own way.
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