For introverts, "networking" is a four letter word. It is a torturous, traumatic experience and a tool of manipulation that should be avoided at all costs. Extreme introverts, like myself, would rather be stuck in a burning building with no way out than be forced to create conversation with a stranger.
But I am here to dispel the myth! As a struggling introvert, I have learned that networking doesn't have to be scary or purely self-serving, and with today's job market it is a MUST for job seekers. The majority of all job openings are not advertised so your chances of finding a open position are increased dramatically when you engage in networking.
Here are some tips to make networking easier and more effective for my fellow introverts:
Before you network:
Start with who you know: You don't necessarily have to meet new people to be networking. Start with people you already know and are comfortable with. Simply let them know you are looking for a job and they instantly become your personal job scouts. Don't think you know many people? Make a list of all your family members, friends, neighbors, doctors, dentists, past coworkers and bosses, barbers, and anyone else you come in contact with on a regular basis. You might be surprised at how big your network currently is.
Understand it is quality over quantity: Some job seekers think networking means meeting as many people as possible and leaving an event with a gigantic stack of business cards. Au contraire my friend! Networking is all about lasting relationships. Meeting one person that you will stay in touch with is infinitely more effective than knowing the name of every person in the room but never seeing them again.
At an event:
Baby Steps: Go to an event with the goal of approaching just ONE person or staying for just ONE hour. You will see it's not so scary and be empowered next time to network even more.
Be yourself: Don't go into an event thinking you need to be the life of the party. Be who you are, think about what you ARE good at, and capitalize on it. Are you a good listener? People love being listened to. Are you naturally curious? Ask people more about why they chose their occupation. Are you friendly? Just give a big smile and people will naturally be enticed to approach you.
Look for other introverts: Research says that about 50% of the population is actually introverted*, so it's likely there will be other introverts in the room with you. Look for the shyest person in the room and approach them—they will be happy to be relieved of the pressure of having to start conversation, just like you!
After the event:
Congratulate yourself: Give yourself kudos for just showing up! Introverts tend to replay in their mind a thousand times over the moments they think came off as silly or embarrassing. Focus on that fact that you are overcoming your fears and treat yourself for a job well done.
Follow up: Contact the people you made a connection with the next day through an email or phone call. This is a crucial step in transforming a stranger to a useful contact.
See, not so bad right? Start small, be positive and you will soon be on your way to networking success.
*Myers, I. B., McCaulley, M. H., Quenk, N. L., & Hammer, A. L. (1998). MBTI Manual: A guide to the development and use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (3rd ed.). Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.
Tess Gellerman is a Career Development Facilitator at the Michael Chavez Center for Economic Opportunity where she creates and delivers career-related workshops. She received her Bachelors of Science in International Business from California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo and utilizes her experiences studying and working abroad to help Spanish speaking immigrants achieve career success.