At first glance “networking for introverts” may strike you as an oxymoron, but trust us, introverts can be capable networkers, much like their extroverted counterparts.
Introverts want to know what’s coming and be prepared. As an introvert you may have a harder time talking about things that don’t inspire you, so preparation should focus on visualizing the conversations you want to have and how they relate to what you care about and/or your networking goals. Visualization, or even actual practice with a friend or adviser, can be critical for working out some of the awkwardness that can make networking events more painful than necessary.
Fortunately, the tendency for introverts to want to focus strongly on major interests has few drawbacks in a professional networking scenario. Speaking passionately about your interests, which (should) include your choice of career, can lead to connections and even job offers and is a standard part of a networker’s repertoire. If you’re networking without a clear goal in mind, for instance, expanding your network rather than job seeking, it may be less appropriate to talk at length about your work. If you’re having trouble with these less-formal conversations, a great way to get things going is to ask questions. Even if you’re asking questions about their work, which may not seem less formal, most people are eager for the chance to share about themselves. This should ‘break the ice’ and earn you some goodwill in the conversation.
Since extroverts are energized by interpersonal interaction, they’re likely to have the stamina for more conversations than introverts will at a given networking event. What’s more, extroverts may not have the same need to plan out their interactions, since conversational skills typically come naturally. While this is starting to sound like a lot of bad news for introverts, it’s actually a roadmap to success. Pick your conversations carefully, stick to comfortable topics, and try to make the most out of fewer interactions – network smarter, not harder. Chances are there will be a few people in the room who would be excellent additions to your network. Do as much research as possible on who will be present at the event, and the room won’t feel as crowded. Attending highly-targeted networking events, e.g., an event for director-level analytics professionals in the transportation industry, is another way to ensure you make the most out of each conversation.
Introverts sometimes need time to decompress after high levels of social interaction. At long events, you may notice yourself becoming fatigued, less polished in your answers or less eager to communicate as time goes on. It can be helpful to take a break for a few minutes and regroup before resuming your networking efforts. This will not only extend the total time you’re able to be effective but should help ensure that you’re at your best in each conversation. Just as networking can be a great way to help advance your career, it can also hinder your career if you come across as unprofessional or unenthusiastic. Fortunately, if you follow this advice, be yourself and stick with it (practice makes perfect), you’ll improve your networking skills – as well as your comfort level – and benefit your career.