By Linda Van Valkenburgh, MS, CCMC, CJSS
You will hear over and over again that networking is the most important part of a successful career campaign. I stress this all of the time to my clients.As a matter of fact, it is only when discussing networking that I use a sentence with a double negative.“You will never NOT network again!”What does this mean?It means that everywhere you go and with everyone you meet, there is an opportunity to establish a relationship and it is through relationships that you discover things about people and people discover things about you.If you are in search, this includes the possibility of finding job opportunities, especially in the hidden job market.
“But I am really shy and I find it so difficult to walk into a room and speak to people!” I hear this quite often and to help those of you who function in this space, the following tips are geared to helping you get through and succeed in networking opportunities. Remember, people respond quicker, faster and better to people that they know rather than to complete strangers.
In a blog posting by Rob May in his blog www.business pundit.com, Mr. May addressed his philosophy regarding “How to Network: For Introverts.” Written on December 6, 2006, it as applicable today as it was when he first wrote it. Here is what he said that he learned about networking as an introvert:
Networking is an investment, not a nuisance.
Imagine if you could always find what you needed in just 1 or 2 phone calls. If you are well networked, you probably can. By putting in the time to build your network, you save time when you need to get things done. Well networked people don’t have to waste time firing off random emails to people they don’t know, buying leads or industry lists, or hunting through hundreds of resumes for the right candidate. Pick your poison. Do you want to put in the time now, or later?
At first, you have to kiss a lot of frogs.
Sometimes you have to start by picking events at random. You spend an hour in a very uncomfortable setting, but you learn what to go to and what to skip. Eventually you find a few people or events that you like.
Don’t spend too much time on it.
If you wear yourself out, you won’t ever want to do it. Accept your limitations and just do 1 or 2 events a month. It takes a long time to build these relationships, so it’s better to stick with a few groups over the long haul than 10 groups for two months.
Do cool things.
Introverts typically don’t like to talk about themselves – we prefer to talk about ideas. Force yourself to discuss some of the things you’ve done. Don’t brag, make sure they are relevant to the conversation. Then the extroverts can talk about you and pass your achievements along. It gives you credibility in some circles. Yes, I realize you would rather be accepted for what you think and know, but the truth is that the world measures you by what you do.
Invite people to lunch.
Or invite them to coffee or for a beer after work. If you meet a fellow introvert, he/she is unlikely to do the inviting, so you have to do it.
Go regularly to things you like.
When I was living on the Space Coast, I went to a group called Founders Forum. It was for entrepreneurs and investors. I learned a lot at the meetings, but it took about 6 months for people to start recognizing me and saying hi. It was uncomfortable, being 23 in a room of mostly middle aged people. You just have to keep showing up, month after month.
Analyze your results.
Introverts are intuitive and analytical. Use that skill. What is working? What isn’t? Where do you get the most bang for your buck?
Find the key nodes in the network.
Don’t find a marketing person, find someone who knows lots of marketing people and then invite that person to lunch. If networking wears you out, you will be better off finding the ten key people who all know lots of other people, than finding and maintaining fifty relationships. This takes a long time because it is hard to find the right person. Look for introverts that, for whatever reason, are in jobs that force them to be well connected. Extroverts that share one of your core passions are also a good match.
Don’t network just for the sake of networking.
There is a book called “Never Eat Alone”. That’s all fine and good for extroverts, but we introverts can’t network just to network. As you meet more people, focus on spending your time with the ones that are the best fit, and focus less on meeting new people.
In addition to the above pointers on networking, the comments to the posting contain a treasure trove of information that other introverted networkers found to help them be successful doing something that they find difficult to do. Some of these include the following paraphrased suggestions with some comments from me:
- Make it appoint to come early as the front rows are often reserved for most important people. They attract a lot of crowd and chances are that you will end up sitting next to 2nd tier important people who know or work for these important people. As they cannot ask you to get up, you end up sitting next to them. As conversations with these people start around you, to all others, you will be considered a part of the “inner circle” and that exponentially increases the chances of making good contacts. In this way, you get to meet very good people automatically.
- One of the best ways to build a stronger network is to simply ask people how you can help them and then “do it.” It is amazing how loyal people will be to a relative stranger that simply makes an effort to help.
- Someone recommended “The Fine Art Of Small Talk” by Debra Fine. The CD’s can be purchased on Amazon. As an introverted engineer, they say that she has done a great job of demystifying engaging in chit-chat with strangers in a fun, easy way.
- Another solution offered up was to become a speaker at events. You do this by consistently writing something meaningful in an industry blog or finding another way to establish yourself as an industry authority. Say something interesting about a combination of ideas and accomplishments and make yourself available after the talk. People will then walk up to you, chat and invite you out.
- Get out of your comfort zone by going to someplace new at least once every couple of weeks. You will see and meet people that you’d never cross paths with otherwise.
- Do something cool. Many people use metal business cards or cards of a different size. For those of you who have been to my ExecuNet networking meetings, you have heard me talk about my “Meet MeMe” cards that I use at networking meetings. These look like baseball trading cards that have statistics about how many people follow you on Twitter, contain your QR code or any other information you feel is worth sharing. They are brightly colored and contain various types of graphics that you choose. They act as an attention getter and stick out from the crowd when reviewing the numerous business cards that can be aggregated during an evening of networking.
I hope the above has provided you with some concrete examples of how to go about networking when you are a more introverted person. And, if you are not an introvert, the suggestions and information contained in here can only help to enhance your skills.
As always, please let me know if this helped you. If you are struggling in search, please feel free to contact me at [email protected] or 203-323-9977.