I’m an introvert and deal with social anxiety on a frequent basis. I would rather go to the dentist than make small talk with people I don’t know at a networking function. Sound familiar? Unfortunately networking is the best way to make helpful connections.
These connections are important to landing a job, finding a mentor, getting a business deal done, or finding unique opportunities. As many as 85% of jobs are found through networking. Almost every job or internship I’ve had was because of networking. Like I said, I am a total introvert but I have found ways to make the experience easier. Today I give you the complete guide to networking for introvert. By using these tips, you will be able to overcome your shy nature, to take advantage of these opportunities.
This is very, very important. Do you wing interviews? No. In a way, networking is an interview. First impressions are very important. So having a few conversation starters up your sleeve will help you get the conversation going until it naturally flows.
Come up with a list of a few conversation starter questions. You can even keep them on your phone if you are able to secretly look at them.
If you are meeting up with someone for a one on one, think about questions about their career, or anything you are curious about. Some examples may be, how did you end up in your career path, did you have any mentors along the way, what contributed most to your success so far?
When it comes to larger networking events, come up with a list of general icebreaker questions about them, your industry or the event you are at. Some examples of this could be, what industry are you in, have you done any traveling this year, did you see the news about “insert relevant news story.” If you choose a news topic, be sure it isn’t anything controversial such as politics. Think more along the lines of a news story about innovation in your field or an interesting fun fact (did you know Antarctica used to be a rain forest?).
2. It’s Okay to Walk Away
Sometimes you run out of things to talk about with someone or the conversation doesn’t flow. THAT IS TOTALLY OKAY. As with your conversation starters, have a few back up lines to exit awkward conversations. You can simply thank them for their time and express how nice it was to speak with them. Sometimes I also add that I am going to make some rounds and hope to speak to them later. Other times, I say I need to fill up my drink (be sure that it’s actually empty before you say this) and then I look for someone else to talk to after I fill up my drink. Having a polite exit strategy can also help relieve the other person as well if the conversation dies out.
Practice may not make perfect in all cases but it makes networking easier over time. Practice your small talk skills with people you don’t know wherever you can. Go to a local meet up for something you’re interested in. Having the hobby or interest in common, makes for easier conversation starters. Strike up a conversation with someone at work that you don’t normally talk to. Make small talk with a cashier. Look for opportunities in your comfort zone to strike up conversations with new people. Just because it isn’t a formal event, doesn’t mean it isn’t practice.
4. Look for Challenges
It is pretty easy to go to a networking event with a friend, only talk to them and then go home. I’m guilt of this to be honest. However, that won’t benefit you at all. You also have to look for opportunities to get out of your comfort zone every once in a while to network.
A few years ago I took on a position that involved networking and relationship management despite the fact that I am an introvert. I knew that this was a weak spot in my skill set so I figured that it was a great opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and improve my networking skills. Let me tell you, the first bunch of times I was at business meetings and work events making small talk, I did not come off as a networking pro. I was quiet and let others do the talking for me. I cringe thinking back sometimes.
As I continued doing my job, I eventually started to realize that everyone was using similar small talk icebreakers and they are all human just like me. I eventually started feeling less uncomfortable and started to embrace the challenge. At the end of the day, an awkward conversation won’t kill you. I ended up performing very will in the role and even got promoted. Although, I still don’t enjoy networking, at least it has become easier for me.
Look for any new opportunities to get out of your comfort zone because that will be the only way to become more comfortable with networking. This doesn’t need to be a job switch. It could be attending a conference or joining affinity groups at your company or in your industry. The more you do it, the less scary each time after that becomes.
Let’s say you really hit it off with someone at a networking event and you take down their email or get their business card. This is unfortunately where many budding networking relationships go to die. You think to yourself, I am definitely going to contact them, and then you never do. I’m also guilt of this one as well but have been improving over the years.
If you get someone’s contact information, send them a follow up expressing how much you enjoyed the conversation and so they have your contact information. Then, set a reminder in your phone to reach back out to them sometime in the future. You can either set some time up to catch up over a coffee or share an interesting tidbit that you think they will find interesting so you have an excuse to reach back out.
PSA: Watch Out for the Drinks
I like to have a drink or two to take the edge off of the awkwardness of networking so no judgement here if you have a couple drinks at a networking happy hour. However, I’ve seen it go a little too far too many times.
If you’re at an event with free drinks, it’s easy to use your empty drink as an excuse to leave a conversation or start sipping every time there is a lull in the conversation. It’s a slippery slope to becoming a little too tipsy which is not a good look when you are trying to make a good impression.
Be sure to be mindful of how much you’re drinking and alternative between an alcoholic drink and a glass of water so you can at least have something in your hand. (I’m not sure why but I tend to feel less anxious I’m holding something instead of my hands fidgeting.)
Unfortunately the best way to succeed in life it to have a solid network. This network can not only introduce you to your next job but they can offer other useful insights as well. You may be looking for a developer for a new business that you’ve started or just looking for a dentist recommendation. This network may reach out to you with a new investment opportunity. You may even gain some life long friends. The only way to benefit from networking is to get out there and start doing it. The more you network, the less painful each time becomes.