Introverts often get a bad rap. Despite being inwardly inclined, introverts aren’t any less capable than their extroverted counterparts. However, introverts interested in networking might want some tips about how to start a conversation at a networking event, navigate social situations, and eventually build relationships with professional peers. All of those things can translate into significant career gains.
Some of the biggest names in tech, including Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, are self-professed introverts. Clearly, it’s not a career impediment—provided you prepare for any networking events or meetings ahead of time, and work through how you’ll handle groups of people. In that spirit, here are some networking tips for introverts.
Prepare ahead of time
Don’t go into events cold. Before you head out and start networking (especially if you hate networking), it’s critical to do your research. Ask yourself:
- What is this event’s purpose?
- Who else will be there?
- What can you talk about with those people?
- What are your goals for the event?
One key thing to remember when networking as an introvert: no matter what the social situation or professional event, you’re not going to build a meaningful relationship with everyone there. Instead, you should set realistic goals, such as obtaining contact information from two or three people.
Here are some additional tips:
Change your perspective
With the wrong perspective, networking can feel one-sided and disingenuous, which can make the idea of it even more daunting to introverts. However, it’s important to look at networking as an opportunity to build mutually beneficial relationships. Even if you’re new to your career or changing fields, it’s important to remember you have something to offer—whether that be a unique perspective to the industry or fresh skillset you can bring to the table. You’re planting seeds and you never know which ones are going to blossom. The professionals you’re networking with today could be seeking your help in the future.
Prepare your ‘elevator pitch’
Before you walk into a networking event it’s a good idea to have an elevator pitch prepared. A good technique is Present, Past, Future, in which you formulate a short narrative around the following:
- What are you currently doing?
- What have you’ve done in the past?
- What do you want for your future?
Once you have your pitch prepared and practiced, it will be easier to adjust the content according the environment you are in and to the person you are speaking with. Also, ask yourself what you’re looking to get out of the event. For example:
- Are you looking to get a new job lead?
- Meet a potential mentor?
- Connect with peers to share best practices?
By figuring out why you’re going, you can refine your pitch and better focus on creating a few quality connections.
Business cards first, then follow up
Don’t limit networking to “networking” events
When it comes to networking, you’re not limited to discrete events. If you note someone with whom you’d like to be connected, ask a friend if they can make an introduction. You can also reach out to someone on social media to see if they would be willing to hop on a 30-minute call, or go to non-networking events such as hackathons, where there is still an opportunity to meet like-minded people in your industry.
Some of the best opportunities to network are those social occasions that you might get dragged into, like BBQs, neighborhood mixers, or even your kid’s school PTA fundraisers. Just make sure to keep the conversation as light and friendly as possible.
Excuse yourself from people you don’t enjoy
Ultimately, networking is about building relationships. Like any relationship, don’t try to force something that doesn’t feel right. If you don’t enjoy speaking to someone—or if the conversation feels off—move on to someone else who you can have a more genuine experience with.
Even if networking seems uncomfortable at first, be yourself and be patient. If you keep putting yourself out there, you’ll make contacts and friends, open up new opportunities, and ultimately advance your career.