Networking For Introverts: A Primer

Networking for introverts - is it even possible? Of course! Click through for networking tips + career advice that will help you, introverted OR extroverted!
Is networking for introverts even, like, POSSIBLE? I mean, does anyone actually like networking – introverted or otherwise? For a long time, the thought of networking made me roll my eyes so hard I’d incite migraines.  In fact, a friend jokes that my business card should actually read “Don’t talk to me.”

But!  Then I realized that:
a) networking is really just talking to people and making new friends, two skills at which I excel.
b) knowing lots of people = exponentially more business and career opportunities.

So, I decided to suck it up. Here are all my best introverted networking tips!

8 ways to network if you’re an introvert

Realize that networking is really just making new friends

You don’t have to introduce yourself by rattling off your professional skill set and where you work.  Just talk to people the same way you would if you met them at your friend’s barbecue.

And if you don’t like someone, you don’t have to talk to them. If you don’t like them, you’re probably not going to want to work with them in any way, shape or form.

Be a helpful hooker-upper

View networking not in terms of what people can do for you, but what you can do for them. Who can you hook them up with? What advice can you give them?  When you approach a situation with no expectations about what you’re going to get out of it, you’ll be a lot more relaxed.  Also?  It feels good to help people!

Stop worrying about seeming professional

I don’t really think you need to worry too much about seeming professional. Underneath that blazer, we're all humans who check Facebook too much + love reality tv. Click To Tweet Also: people appreciate candor.

Of course, don’t drop F-bombs everywhere and wax on about religion, but you needn’t speak exclusively about “outside the box action items.”  At the last networking event I went to, my conversation topics included: the best thrift stores in St. Paul and Ukrainian wicker furniture.  Seriously.

Give yourself a time frame/goal

If you really, really hate networking/meeting new people, give yourself a time frame or goal.  “I only have to stay for an hour and then I can come home and watch Netflix.”  or “I just have to give out three business cards and then I can go watch that Katy Perry 3D movie by myself.”

Get there early

I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s actually much easier to strike up a conversation if there are only three people there. It’s the ‘walking into a crowded ballroom of people who are already talking to each other’ bit that’s intimidating.

Show up a few minutes early and you can even help the organizers set up a bit. <- brownie points + extra networking.

Skip the small talk

A lot of us introverts aren’t particularly shy, we just hate making tedious small talk with strangers. So skip it!

A weird way to immediately build rapport: ask them for advice. People looooove giving advice. It allows them to demostrate their expertise and it can easily segue into them sharing a funny/vulnerable/non-small talk story of a time they struggled with something similar.

P.S. Obviously, keep your advice-seeking question appropriate and don’t ask something that’s going to make you seem inexperienced or inept. “The new Facebook algorithm is really giving us a rough time. What are you guys doing? I’d love your advice” = yes. “I don’t understand how to turn on my computer. What should I do?” = no.

Don’t burn yourself out

If you are a dyed in the wool, true blue introvert you need to know your limits.  Meeting new people and networking are important.  Maintaining your mental health is more important.  Find a balance that works for you.

Don’t forget to return texts and emails

I know you know this but I’m going to tell you anyway: 90% of success is doing what you say you’re going to do. And when you fail to return an email or text (especially in a professional or networking situation) you’ve just marked yourself as unreliable. Just force yourself to do it.

Are you an introvert? How do you navigate networking? Share your advice in the comments so we can benefit from your knowledge!

P.S. How to befriend bloggers without being awkward or stalker-y + How to make friends as an adult

photos by STIL // cc

23 Comments

K

I tend to leach onto one person. Someone who I either already know or who initiates a conversation with me. It's bad and makes networking much less useful and productive than it could be. It is crazy hard though, and scary and totally exhausting.

Something I read recently that I want to try is to research the event and try to find out some of the people who will be there beforehand. Useful In two ways. Firstly knowing more about something makes it way less scary. Secondly, that way I can pick a small number of people I want to meet and preplan conversation ideas relevant to them. Somewhat geeky and contrived I know but I reckon it'd help.

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Lauren @ honeybear

I'm a hardcore introvert. Like, REALLY. I have no friends. So I have trouble going to those company events and getting my name out there.

What I've learned is that you just have to go do it. It wasn't long ago that I was in college, so I was attending plenty of career fairs where I really had no other choice than to walk up to someone, look them in the eye and tell them what I can offer. It sucks and I end up completely sweaty, but people say they have no idea. I always hear that I'm so sure of myself, and I'm really not. I just know how to put on a front.

Just a few weeks ago I went to dinner with coworkers. I was nervous the entire time, struggling to enter the conversation and eventually stood up to a puddle of sweat on my chair. But did anyone notice how uncomfortable I was? Nope!

It also helps if you can find those extroverted people around you. I have a coworker who comes to my desk and tries to get me to talk every day. He asks me why I'm so quiet and why I don't talk and all the usual things that make introverts want to punch extroverts, but I've realized it can be beneficial to tag along with someone like that. The few friends I used to have were always extroverts. It helps!

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Raquel Wilson-Sow

I got the professionalism down, but part of my anxiety comes from bad past experiences. Especially along the "helpful hooker-upper" route.

Helping people and connecting people without so much of a glimmer of what's in it for me was my way of life for a long time. Until I started see all the wolves who took, took, took – leaving me high and dry with not even a mention of thank you when they did well.

Which I was okay with — until I needed a hooker upper or helping hand and turned to many of the same people, with no response.

So I am so leery of people now – and helping people now – that I just steer clear. Which, of course, has not helped my business. So much so that I'm working on going back to the cube (as in cubical). *sigh*

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Anonymous

I'll flip the opposite day switch (like that episode of Seinfled with George) and declare the hour of a unwanted socializing to be opposite time. Then i'll just try to act like I'm in an extrovert play or something and do lots of head and handshaking and ask a question every so often. Then like suggestion #4, I have a reward at the end. Sometimes I'll do this when an opportunity crosses my path. At first I'll avoid it, then I'll flip the switch and say, well opposite me would do this. Since I started doing this a number of small but important life changing things has happened.
I also like to think of emails and texts as being a boon to introverts. They keep me off the phone and limit face time. Though I don't answer right away, as I usually need to digest info in the important ones, I will answer.

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Sarah Von Bargen

Rachel,

I so sorry to hear that was your experience! What sort of helping and hooking up did you do? Like, work you did yourself for them? Or introducing them to other people?

With close, personal friends I will happily do a million things for free: re-write online dating profiles, internet consulting, edit business plans, link to their stuff, you name it.

But if it's someone I only know professionally, I try to limit my helping to
a) referrals
b) introductions
c) 10 minutes of free advice

So that maybe dials down the potential for taking advantage. :/

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Cassie @ WittyTitleHere.com

Ah, yes. Networking as an introvert can be such a nerve-wracking experience, and I have to constantly work on it. Not long ago, I was going to an event for my job that was going to require some social interaction, and I was SO PISSED when my boyfriend completely forgot about it and scheduled something else. Turns out it was better that he didn't come, because otherwise, I would've only talked to him the whole night. Instead, it forced me out of my comfort zone, and I ended up talking with several people there. (Oh, and this interaction was the direct result of an awkward "sorry-I-grabbed-the-cheese-in-front-of-you" moment. That awkwardness ended up being a good thing!)

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Anonymous

My best tip – volunteer! I used to go to professional events and talk to the same two people. Then I started volunteering with my professional association and now at most events, I know everyone in the room. Totally worth the time I put in.geedopp

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Courtney

I'm like you: When I first started networking, it was really daunting. Then I realize it was just a fancy word for making friends.

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A Little Coffee

@Cassie – I'm a fellow introvert, and I often find that the best interactions I have at networking events are the ones that start out of a conversation like that (i.e. "Oops sorry I just bumped into you!") I think it's because the conversation starts off on a different note than the usual structure. Often I have a backup script in my head for those events if I can't think of anything else to say, but it's boring small talk, and those "oops" moments force you outside of that script.

I don't think it's a bad idea to go with a friend if it gives you comfort, but you have to go with the agreement that you won't spend the whole time talking exclusively to each other. Maybe go together and grab a drink, then say, "Okay, circle back in 30 minutes to see how it's going and if we've met anyone to introduce to each other." And then go out to meet people separately!

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Carmen

Great post! I'm like you – 51% extrovert, 49% introvert (love that) and have a really hard time with networking events. Mostly because everyone seems so PROFESSIONAL and I don't see myself that way at all. It makes me uncomfortable to be in a room with a bunch of suits.
Like others, I make it a game. 4 business cards, or I talk to 2 scary people, or something like that. And I've convinced myself that the result of these conversations is meaningless. It's turned out really well sometimes, and others, not so well, but hey, what can you do?
I can't say I enjoy the events anymore that I used to, but making a game out of it really makes it more enjoyable.
Also, have a glass of wine. I'm much more apt to talk to someone when I've had a glass. That's terrible, isn't it?

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Eileen

Well, I'm maybe at 70% introvert and 30% extrovert, and am often not just scared of networking but meeting new people socially. But! I talk myself up and I go out and do things anyway. I find that ordinary socializing gives me just as much benefit as any official networking happy hour. Like, I talked myself into going to meet people at a local knitting group–and now I suddenly have a range of friends and acquaintances in different industries, with different skills, who I can call on for different things–and they can call on me. In part this works because the pressure is off–I'm not trying to get a job, just to hang out with people. It also helps build up my confidence and boosts my ability to talk like a normal human in more stressful situations.

For actual networking events, yes, the glass of wine helps–but only one! I like to go with a friend so I always have someone I can stand near without feeling completely awkward. Plus this means you can tag-team the discussion to give each other a break. I also think going to the same weekly or monthly event is helpful because you can become acquaintances with the core group of attendees, and then hey! You know more people!

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Kim Humes

Great post! I am also an introvert and I find networking events soooo intimidating! Especially if it's one where I don't know anyone. It makes me feel good that I'm not alone in this fear. This probably goes without saying but I find that for me often the hardest thing is starting the convo – often once I am IN the convo for a few minutes, I feel 100x more confident and wonder what I was so concerned about when I first walked in. It's important to remember that a lot of your fear is likely in your head, in the form of negative, non-confident thoughts. So it's important to think positively and be fair to yourself – I try to remind yourself that everyone else in the room is human, probably freaked out too, and not perfect. Don't put too much pressure on yourself – try your best and push yourself a little outside your comfort zone but don't feel like you have to beat some record. Set a goal to give/get a business card from/to one person, then if you are spent – go. home. No one is going to be mad at you or make fun of you because you leave an event after 20 minutes – there will be others, and hey – you went right? Sometimes for us introverts half the battle is getting to the event in the first place! I will also bring a friend or my bf with me if I am feeling particularly nervous, but I do agree that you should try to resist the urge to just talk to each other all night.

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Anonymous

I'm so introvert. I'm scare to go interview. And in interview I get nervous and can't answer properly. I think that's why I can't find job. I dont Have problem talking to people I just can't hold conversation and don't know what to talk about

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Kelly

I'm definitely an introvert and required to do a lot of networking at work. Like four days a week. I find that if I can just focus on making one connection, one relationship with one person a night, I do okay. I think it even helps establish deeper connections than i would otherwise, and you'll never come off as that person looking for just a bunch of cards or shallow connections.

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Dee

There's actually this youtuber called charlieissocoollike (he's pretty successful, even though he's like 22 or something). anyway, he just made a video explaining what an introvert is, and why he is one and I totally agree with the definition he gave. I think that if you're feeling cheap or like you're focusing on selling yourself as opposed to just being yourself, you're networking wrong. I'm far from being an expert but people can usually tell if you're being sincere (it's better to look a bit nervous or awkward than to look fake).

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kate

What if being an introvert, making small (or big) talk and dislike of networking actually comes from a general dislike of making conversation. I'm great at answering questions simply and interacting with people in small (small! mostly quiet!) doses but put me in a room and require me to wow someone with my small talk and I want to go home and snuggle with my cats. So being an introvert with a knack for conversation is great but when your conversation skills are limited what do you do? (especially in a room when people expect YOU to approach them!)

just a thought, question.

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Anonymous

All you girls have to do really is eat right and work-out, both things just comes out naturally for introverts. Now the introverted men…
Sorry Dudes.

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Anonymous

At networking events, I dress professionally, I introduce myself professionally, I have conversations professionally, but the only people who contact me are the guys who stayed late, got drunk, and want me to come back to the event so I could go home with them.

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