An Introvert’s Guide to Networking
How to build connections without overdrafting on your energy bank.
How many of your friends have gotten a new job or opportunity through someone they know? I bet you can name a few right now. In fact, this might even describe you. Like it or not, making connections is an important part of building a successful career—but it doesn’t come easily to all of us.
For introverts, talking to new people can feel exhausting, stressful, and even anxiety-inducing. But with a few tips and tricks, you can learn to harness your strengths and create boundaries that can make networking a little less daunting. Here are eight techniques to try.
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1. Shift Your Perspective
If the mere mention of “networking” makes you want to hide under the covers, try reframing how you think about it. Career Coach Laura Barker suggests mentally replacing “networking” with “meeting new people.” “Connection is a basic human need,” she says. “Introverts or extroverts, we are all social animals who function best in groups. Consider networking as just a formalized way of building groups, and picture your network like your own personal community.”
Natalie Woodrum, Owner and Photographer at Here Today Photography, takes perspective-shifting a step further. “As an introvert, I have found that actually naming an alter ego allows me to face social situations with more confidence and comfort,” she says. “I know it sounds silly, but I mentally call myself by a different name as I prepare for a large social event, and when I speak to people, I tell myself that I’m speaking on behalf of my alter ego. As soon as I’m back in my car, I’m back to being Natalie and can take a deep breath and recharge.”
2. Get Curious
One of your greatest networking tools as an introvert is the knowledge that most people really like talking about themselves. “The energy you project when you’re curious draws people in,” says Barker. Show people that you’re interested in what they have to say, and they’ll do most of the talking. Carla Williams Johnson, publicist to the CEO at Carli Communications, recommends asking everyone these three questions: What are you passionate about? What projects are you working on? What do you need help with right now? “These questions get the other person talking,” she says. “They also build trust and avoid the awkwardness of meaningless small talk.”
3. Be Yourself
It may sound cliché, but you’ll get a lot further if you don’t waste energy trying to be someone you’re not. “Many introverted professionals try to act like extroverts in networking situations,” says Mimi Paul, a marketing executive at Kyte Digital. “This approach isn’t necessary. Be authentic, and it’s alright if you come off a little awkward. Just don’t keep apologizing for it.”
More comfortable listening than speaking? Kimberley Tyler-Smith, an executive at Resume Worded, recommends using this quality to your advantage. “Don’t be afraid of silence,” she says. “If someone asks you a question, give them space to talk about themselves—and then ask them something back! They’ll appreciate the chance to talk about their interests without worrying about being interrupted or feeling like they’re taking up too much time talking.”
4. Find Your People
Is there someone else in the room who looks as nervous as you feel? Introduce yourself and be honest about the fact that you’re feeling intimidated. Chances are, they’ll appreciate your candor and echo your feelings. Tracy Williams, CEO of Olmstead Williams Communications, makes a habit of approaching the person who’s standing alone at an event. “It’s not only kind, it’s also a great way to give you both an opportunity to meet someone new,” she says. “Sometimes, the lone souls are the best people in the room. I like to head to the bar and ask the person in line what they’re ordering, then introduce myself, and we’re off to the races.”
It’s infinitely easier to make connections when you have a shared interest that can help break the ice. “Try attending events and participating in clubs that relate to an activity or interest you enjoy,” says Paul. “Just because you work in a particular field doesn’t mean you should only go to conferences related to it.” Blogger Oana Ianiko agrees: “I have found it helpful to find networking events that are tailored to my interests. This way, I know that I will at least have something in common with the people who are attending. I attend an event called Ladies Wine & Design, which is meant for female creatives, and it makes networking so much less daunting, because I have something in common with everyone in the room.”
5. Give Yourself a Goal
At the end of the day, networking is work. You may never enjoy it, and that’s okay, but giving yourself attainable goals can make it feel more manageable. Williams recommends gamifying networking events: “Give yourself a goal of connecting with 5-10 people. Once you hit that goal, you’ve won and may head home to your family,” she says. “This will give you the motivation to engage people. It only takes a few minutes to make an impression and assess whether or not you want to follow up and connect again one-on-one.”
6. Have an Exit Plan
No matter how well you prepare, there’s always a chance you’ll feel overwhelmed and need a moment alone to recharge. Patricia Roberts, author and CEO of Gift of College, recommends taking regular breaks: “If I’m at a conference, which can be a bit overwhelming, I slip off to my hotel room or a quiet corner to recenter myself. That way, I return refreshed and more open to interaction.”
7. Go Online
If in-person interactions are too much to handle, try taking things online. “It can start with just a LinkedIn connection request,” says Cherelle Johnson, co-manager at Thatsister.com. “You can ask for guidance, and by doing so, you will be able to break down your wall of hesitation. You can build a vast network through LinkedIn without exposing your nervousness.”
Ianiko takes things a step further by bringing online techniques to IRL conversations. “I use questions from /r/AskReddit, /r/NoStupidQuestions, and /r/TooAfraidToAsk to get to know people in a fun way,” she says. “I keep a list of some of my favorite questions from those subreddits, and I use them when I meet new people. I find that this technique helps me to break the ice and get to know people in a more relaxed way.”
8. Offer Help
When you start a relationship by offering your assistance, you immediately build trust and shift into a collaborative problem-solving mode, rather than stagnating in small talk. “When I approach networking from a perspective of how I can be of service, it takes the pressure off of me and makes it easier to start a conversation,” says Ianiko. “Additionally, it helps me to build genuine relationships with people, rather than just superficial ones. This way, even if I don’t end up working with or for the person I meet, I still walk away with a valuable connection.”