Six years ago, if you came up to me and said that networking would be one of the keys to my success after college, I would have slapped you across the face.
Okay, I definitely wouldn’t have slapped you across the face (that would be pretty awful, wouldn’t it?), but the idea of networking was terrifying to a shy college freshman like me. The word “networking” evoked images of ill-fitting professional attire and awkward encounters with high-level executives who would never give a college student the time of day. To me, “networking” required an overly assertive, almost aggressive demeanor. How could an introvert like me ever compete with those big personalities?
What I didn’t know at eighteen years old, however, was that networking was not limited to professional development events and a formal exchange of business cards. By joining clubs on campus, making friends in my classes, participating in internships and getting to know my professors and advisors, I was actually building my network without even realizing it.
Networking ultimately led to my first job out of college and continues to play a huge role in my career today. I may be an introvert, but I have found ways to network that have worked well for me. To all of my shy or otherwise introverted readers out there, this article is for you!
The Weekend Five: Networking Tips for Introverts
1. Don’t think of it as “networking.”
Think of it as relationship building. By genuinely getting to know people, you not only create a stronger network, but you also improve your own quality of life! Your conversations don’t have to revolve entirely around a business pitch. As I mentioned before, networking doesn’t always take place at a formal networking event — a lot of times, it can happen in a classroom, an elevator, a club meeting or your dorm building. Talk to people and get to know them one-on-one. Start with people you may already cross paths with or with whom you may share a few mutual contacts. A lot of times, this is far less intimidating than walking right up to a complete stranger from the get-go.
2. Get involved in an organization.
Whether you enjoy professional student organizations or community service projects, join a group (or two) that introduces you to new people. By working toward a common goal or sharing a similar interest, you have an easy way to break the ice while doing something you enjoy. I still keep in touch with many of my fellow officers from the organizations I was involved with in college, and today I am getting to know new people in my college’s alumni association by attending their events and meetings as well!
3. Find commonalities.
Networking doesn’t have to mean diving headfirst into a conversation about your company’s products and services. Sometimes, a great way to build your network is to start by finding things you have in common. At one networking event, I found myself talking with a guy about our recent travels, and by the end of our conversation, I was invited to be a guest speaker in one of the classes he taught. At another event, I bonded with the lady behind me at the buffet over our shared interest in some of the food. It turned out she was a very important person on the board of an organization that I worked with, and now she knew who I was! Pro tip: If you’re feeling really lost at a formal networking event, head over to the food table and strike up a conversation with one of the people nearby. People love talking about food (and trying to guess what some of the interesting looking appetizers are!).
4. Attend events.
Leave the house. It’s not easy to meet people and form lasting connections from the comfort of your couch. (If it were, Tinder would have a much higher success rate!) Attend events that interest you – not just networking events, but professional development workshops, guest speakers, social events, etc. Find a friend to attend with you if it will bring you out of your shell a bit more, but if your friends aren’t interested in the types of events you like, go by yourself. Because most of my friends did not have my major in college, I attended a lot of club meetings and agency tours on my own, and I don’t regret it for a minute. I made new friends that way, and learned a lot about my major and the industry that I wanted to go into!
5. Get out of your comfort zone.
Sometimes you will need to do the things that scare you, and that’s okay. I say “yes” to opportunities constantly, even when they seem intimidating, because I know they will help me to grow. That’s why I take on so many public speaking engagements and try to break out of my shell at events — I never want my nerves to keep me from meeting people or from growing personally and professionally. I draw my energy from within and require that time to myself to recharge and refocus, but that shouldn’t limit me from getting to know others and setting goals for myself outside of my comfort zone. You don’t need to do anything that conflicts with your personal values, but I challenge you to get out of your comfort zone the next time you attend an event and get to know someone new.
What are your networking tips for introverts? Share yours in the comments section below!