Network. Network. Network. This is one of the most common pieces of advice any mentor or career center will give you. Those words also strike fear in the hearts of many introverts. Since an estimated 80% of jobs are secured through networking, what’s an introvert to do?
Attending a networking event is typically a scary prospect for most introverts. The good news is that networking doesn’t just happen at networking events. Use your alumni network and your LinkedIn connections to make one-on-one contacts and request informational interviews with people who are working in your areas of interest. That being said, this doesn’t mean you should avoid networking events, as they are incredible opportunities to make multiple, meaningful professional connections in a short amount of time. Though intimidating at first, the more you practice navigating networking events, the easier it will be. Here are some tips for making the most of a networking event as an introvert:
• Invite a colleague or friend to attend the event with you. While you will have the comfort of having someone you know with you, make sure you don’t use this as a crutch to avoid meeting other people.
• Set small goals for yourself, such as making a commitment to meet at least 4 people or stay at least 45 minutes, before you act on your urge to bolt. Focus on quality over quantity.
• Do your homework. If the event has an RSVP list, scan the list ahead of time and see if there are particular people you want to meet and do some research on their backgrounds. Conversations are much easier to start if you have a specific purpose or request: “I understand you work at Company X and I would love to hear more about your recent product launch.”
• Develop and practice your elevator pitch. Practice a brief introduction with your name, your school, your major, your goals, and if appropriate, a request.
• Scan the group and watch for body language. Do you see another lone person in the room? Chances are good that this person might be a fellow introvert and would welcome your initiative to talk. Likewise, if you see a couple of people and one looks disengaged, that is usually a good opportunity to enter a conversation and allow one of them to make a graceful exit.
• Follow up. This is where introverts shine since they often have a preference for written versus oral communication. Follow up with a LinkedIn invitation and an email that allows you to share more information about your background and goals and to make a specific request such as meeting for coffee or asking for a referral. The back of the person’s business card is a great way to jot down a few notes about the conversation you had with them on the spot so you can write a follow-up note with specifics. Use LinkedIn to see if you have existing mutual connections.
• Recharge after the event. Remember that being around lots of people can be tiring for introverts and you’ll need to plan some time to recharge, especially if you are at a conference where you will be in an all-day networking environment.
As you develop your career and attend more and more networking events, you will become increasingly comfortable connecting with professionals in a meaningful way. You might also find that it’s far more interesting and enjoyable than hovering over the hor d’oeuvres table by yourself!
Angela Schmiede is Dean of Academic & Professional Success at Menlo College, a small, private business college located in Silicon Valley. She has over 20 years of experience designing and leading experiential learning programs, and has taught at Vanderbilt and Stanford Universities.