Most introverts are actually very good communicators who are uncomfortable interacting under certain circumstances. Unfortunately, those difficult situations often include business-related activities such as networking and interviewing. So what’s an ambitious introvert to do when in search of new employment?
Prepare and Practice
“When prepared, introverts do well in social situations,” said Karen Southall Watts, "professional encourager" and author of Networking for Introverts
. “Plan for your networking events,” she continued. “This includes having an idea of how many people you'd like to meet. Do your pre-event homework to decide who you want to talk to as well and then decide how long you think you will stay.” Nagela Dales, owner of the branding and creative service company Silver Lining Creative and self-described introvert, suggested “smart stalking” to try to find out as much as you possibly can about the people you will be interacting with during an event or interview. “Practice your personal narrative and responses to common interview questions with as many people as possible, but no fewer than three,” is the recommendation of Elizabeth Atcheson, principal at Blue Bridge Career Coaching. “It’s counter-intuitive,” she said, “many people think if they practice, their answers will sound canned but the opposite is true. The more you practice, the more your answers will flow naturally.”
Get Conversational Online
Use social media. Connecting online is a great equalizer and relieves introverts of the stress of face-to-face encounters with unknowns. By connecting and conversing with a network, you can get comfortable with a group or individual prior to ever meeting them. Twitter chats, Google+ and specialized industry forums are great avenues to build relationships that may transcend the Internet.
Ask Leading Questions
“Take comfort in the fact that most people enjoy talking about themselves,” said Atcheson. “They will like you if you ask them about themselves and seem genuinely interested. This is an incredibly safe place for an introvert, because if you just keep asking questions, the other person keeps talking—and thinks you are marvelously intelligent for asking such incisive questions.” Southall Watts added: “Have one-on-one conversations and don't try to ‘work the room.’ Aim for the follow-up.” Those follow-up emails, phone calls, or coffee meetings are the reason why most people go to networking events; that sort of one-on-one communication is where you can let your talents really come into play.
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Travel With a Wingman/Wingwoman
Dales recommends attending business events with a “wingman” or “wingwoman” who can either insert you into a conversation, or stand close by and help facilitate an exit. You might not be able to go to a job interview with a friend in tow, but you can certainly attend a conference with one.
Embrace the Struggle
You shouldn’t have to fake extroversion, as that could lead to embarrassment; but you should embrace the process of finding ways to successfully interact under conditions that are uncomfortable for you. “It is a beautiful struggle to battle the innate nature of being an introvert,” said Alfred Blake IV, a leadership speaker, author of The Students Handbook To Breaking All The Rules
and assistant director of Undergraduate Entrepreneurship at Rutgers University
. Blake advises challenging yourself daily to do one additional thing to break the cycle of discomfort. Having been sorely tested early in his career by the interpersonal requirements of a job, he pushed himself to speak to a random person every single day, even if he only said “Hello, how are you?” That gradually allowed him to increase the number of people with whom he interacted, until he was significantly more at ease with the process of speaking with strangers.
Give Yourself a Break
Southall Watts thinks you should give yourself a reward for an encounter, whether it went well or you barely survived. She usually has a cup of her favorite tea waiting after a meeting, but the reward could be anything. Dales also noted that you can give yourself a break, even after a mediocre performance: “As an introvert, sometimes I just need a ribbon for participation. I make an effort to have one solid conversation with one person. Then I give myself a pat on the back and permission to go.”