There I was, October 2009. A fresh college graduate who had the misfortune of receiving my degree at quite literally the worst time in history until now. The economy was in the tank and I was applying for dozens of jobs per week with absolutely nothing to show for it. I couldn't even get a job at Wendy's (which is probably for the best: Jr. Bacon Cheeseburgers … yum!) so I took the advice I saw everywhere on the internet and went to my own personal hell a networking event.
The thing is, I don't do well in large groups. I'm a textbook introvert. In fact, a friend and former boss has me in her phone as “Introvert King.” It's not that I don't like people, it's that I am extremely uncomfortable striking up a conversation from scratch with a stranger. Even remembering that event all these years later makes my hands sweaty. But, I knew that the best way to get my foot in the door and possibly get a job was to get in front of the decision-makers and network.
Thankfully, I eventually found a job that has led me to a career I love and I think a significant amount of my passion for helping people find great jobs comes from the fact that I had such a hard time landing one after college. I still give job-seekers the advice to network, but I know that for many of us who are introverted, that advice is like asking them to climb Everest: not going to happen.
However, introverts have so much to offer the workplace if they can just get in the door! So, here are a few tips this proud introvert has learned about how to succeed at networking in an extrovert's world.
Go With A Friend
Any time you're learning a new skill (and let's face it: networking is ABSOLUTELY a skill), having an expert to watch and help is incredibly beneficial. So, if you're new to the networking game, call someone you trust who you know is great at it and ask to tag along. For your first time, you don't even need to step too far out of your comfort zone. Simply having someone help you introduce yourself to strangers can be a huge help in overcoming the discomfort or anxiety that often accompanies introverts in these situations. The goal isn't to mimic them, because you want to be yourself, but breaking the ice is often the most difficult part.
Find A Job
Even though I've been to numerous networking events, I still use this trick. A week or so before the event, email the person in charge and ask if there's anything they need help with on the day of the event. Maybe you can pour drinks or greet people at the door. Having something to do OTHER than just talking to strangers can be a fantastic way to start a conversation. Everyone likes the person who pours their wine or opens their beer, and once that door is open it's usually quite easy to keep the conversation going.
While networking “events,” where the entire point is to get together in a room with strangers and talk to them, are the most common form of networking, they are by no means the only or even the most effective way to network.
Many other events that fall under the networking umbrella have incredible potential but provide something to do other than just talk. If your local business organization is looking for ways to give back, suggest sorting food at the local food bank, or helping Habitat for Humanity with a job. Most large communities have a Ronald McDonald House, and they can almost all use help occasionally. Getting together with like-minded professionals not only provides a great way to meet new people, but you also help your community at the same time.
For an introvert like me, networking can be anxiety-inducing, and that fear has kept me from doing it on many occasions. However, with a few simple tricks up your sleeve, you can get the benefits from a networking event all while being your true self.