Networking is an essential skill for career builders and job seekers alike. Having a strong network of social and professional contacts can create new opportunities for you, no matter what line of work you’re in. Through networking, you can connect with potential employers, clients, and collaborators. And if you’re an entrepreneur, you can build awareness of your brand and grow your business to new levels.
But building that kind of a network can require a lot of social interaction. And if you have an introverted personality, that idea might fill you with anxiety -- especially if your idea of networking involves noisy, crowded events that are anything but your idea of a good time.
When you’re an introvert seeking to grow your professional network, it can feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle. It’s often easier for extroverted types to mingle with others, strike up conversations, and make new business contacts because of their outgoing nature. For introverts, social interaction can feel draining, and small talk might feel like a challenge.
On the plus side, as an introvert, you’re probably a great listener, highly observant, and empathic towards other people. By accepting and embracing your natural way of relating to others, you can become an excellent networker and form authentic connections without exhausting yourself in the process.
Here are some tried-and-true strategies that introverts can use to meet new people and open doors to new opportunities.
Look for virtual networking opportunities
If going to meet-and-greet events isn’t your cup of tea -- or isn’t an option at the moment -- there are a huge range of virtual opportunities for meeting and talking with other professionals. Virtual job fairs, conferences, and networking events have taken the world by storm in the time of COVID, and they can be a great way to find new work, make connections within your industry, and get to know the people you already work with.
While these events are still social, you might find it less stressful to meet and talk with people virtually. If you live in the US, you can find upcoming job fairs or conferences in your area, and as of this writing, many of the options are virtual. For networking events, try searching your local Meetup groups -- you never know what (or who) you might find. And if your company holds virtual social events, these offer a perfect way to build stronger relationships with your colleagues.
Prepare in advance for networking events
If you’re going to a networking event -- whether in-person or virtual -- a little preparation can go a long way towards helping you feel more comfortable and in your element. For example, coming up with thoughtful questions or fun icebreakers beforehand will cut down on your stress by giving you easy ways to start conversations with people. Bringing a buddy might also help you feel less alone -- just make sure you still branch out and meet new people!
You’ll also want to come ready with your elevator pitch” a quick rundown of who you are and what you do. It doesn’t have to be a long speech -- ideally, it should be around 30-60 seconds -- but if you’ve thought ahead of time about what you’ll say, introducing yourself to people will be a piece of cake.
And when you’re an introvert, it’s crucial to know and respect your limits with regards to socializing. If you’re starting to feel tired or drained, give yourself permission to step away from the group -- or, if possible, leave the event. Don’t forget to take care of yourself!
Leverage your existing network
Contrary to popular belief, networking isn’t only about meeting new people; it’s also about keeping in touch with people you already know. You might already have a bigger circle of contacts than you realize, and it can feel less intimidating to start your networking journey by approaching people you already have some relationship with (even if you don’t know them well).
Keep your friends, acquaintances, and colleagues in the loop about what you’re up to professionally -- you never know who may have an opportunity to share with you, or who may need your services somewhere down the line. Social media offers an easy way to share updates and keep in loose contact with others so that you stay on their radar.
You can also ask people in your network to connect you with their contacts. If one of your acquaintances knows someone who’s influential in your field or is a recruiter at a company you’d like to work for, don’t be afraid to ask for an introduction. More often than not, your colleague will be happy to help you out, and the shared connection will make it easier to approach the person you want to meet.
Build your personal brand
Another way to expand your network and connect with new people is to establish a strong presence on LinkedIn. LinkedIn isn’t only a popular social media platform; it’s an excellent tool for showcasing your professional experience and building your personal brand. And if you’re an introvert, creating a brand that draws others in may feel more natural than reaching out to people you don’t know well.
To get the most out of LinkedIn, make sure to optimize your profile with an engaging headline, summary, and keywords to help potential employers find you. Connect with people you know, engage authentically with their posts, and share material of your own. If you’re a job seeker, you can use LinkedIn to connect with recruiters and find a job.
What should you share on your profile? You can reshare posts that are relevant to your industry -- or you can use LinkedIn’s Pulse platform to write and distribute your own content. Writing your own posts can help your ideas reach a new audience, boost your following, and position you as a thought leader in your field.
Set up informational interviews
If you want to get a deeper level of insight and understanding into your industry, you can set up informational interviews with professionals who have been in your line of work for some time. Often, these industry veterans will be glad to share their wisdom and experience with you. Introverts especially may enjoy these kinds of interviews because they lead to in-depth conversations and let you create a genuine connection with the other person.
Typically, you wouldn’t seek an informational interview for the purposes of getting a job -- but the meeting can put you into another person’s awareness and plant the seed for future opportunities to arise.
Email is your friend
When cold contacting a new person for the first time, you may find it easier to begin with an email. While exchanging emails with someone is less personal than meeting face-to-face, it can be a low-stress way to break the ice with a new contact and start building rapport. Later, you can move to a video chat, phone call, or in-person meeting.
Even if you’re introverted by nature, you can still build a thriving professional network. Although you may not be up for meeting tons of new people all the time, you likely form authentic, long-lasting connections with those you do meet. Embracing who you are will only make you more powerful and successful in any line of work you choose.