October 28th, 2008 | 1:00 pm

Networking for Introverts

filed under Next Level

iStock_000005478304XSmall_1_.jpgby Liz O’Donnell (Boston)

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70 percent of all jobs are found through networking. Hank Blank, owner of virtual marketing agency, Hank Blank Inc., believes the benefits of networking go well beyond finding a job. “Networking increases your revenue stream, improves your social currency and makes you smarter,” says Blank. With that kind of return, it would be foolish not to add networking to your professional skill set.

Many people however, especially introverts, view networking right up there with public speaking. To the introverted professional, the idea of “working a room” sounds about as pleasant as a trip to the dentist.

Diane K. Danielson, CEO of the Downtown Woman’s Club and author of Table Talk: The Savvy Girl’s Alternative to Networking, suggests introverts make a strategic plan for networking. First identify your goals whether they are job opportunities, new clients, career advice or funding for a project. Next, call the people you know best and invite them for a cup of coffee.

Hank Blank agrees with this strategy. “My advice for introverts is practice, practice, practice,” says Blank. “And who better to practice with than people you know?”

Social networking is another way to ease into networking. Sites like LinkedIn and Facebook allow you to network online without having to leave your office. These sites are great supplements to face-to-face networking, They should never, however, become replacements for in-person meetings.

Probably the most uncomfortable situation for introverts is attending a networking event. It can be draining to walk into a room full of strangers. Danielson suggests choosing an event with a panel discussion or a speaker rather than a cocktail party. That way you can use the evening’s agenda as an automatic discussion topic with the other attendees.

As far as starting discussions, lead by asking questions. People love to give advice so open the conversation with icebreakers such as, “This is my first time meeting with this group. Who do you recommend I meet?” or “Hello. I just got here. Did I miss anything?”

According to Danielson, it is easier to break into groups of three or more. “If two people are talking, they may be having a private conversation,” she cautions. The easiest approach, of course, is to find another person standing alone. Chances are that person is feeling the same way you are and will be grateful for the introduction.

Compliments are another great way to start a conversation. Stylish people appreciate being recognized for their efforts, so feel free to acknowledge a great bag or pair of shoes. This will automatically give you something in common with another person. However, in order for this approach to work, your praise must be sincere. “You always want to raise the positive energy in the room,” says Danielson. Flattery is a good way to do that. Complaining –about the traffic, the weather, or the hors d’oeuvres — is not.

If you find yourself still reluctant to attend a networking event, bring a friend. Just be sure not to use that friend as a crutch. Agree to split up for ten minutes at a time and then get back together and compare notes. Go with the goal of introducing each other to at least two new people. This will take the focus of you, something that can ease an introvert’s discomfort, and force you to meet others.

With a little bit of planning and a lot of practice, networking can work for even the most introverted professional. And in today’s volatile market, keeping your contact database current can be the difference between thriving and just getting by. Set a networking goal and stick to it when times are tough and even when times are good.

6 comments

  1. bill

    I’m an introvert. One of the things I hated the most was network while I was attending business school. When hundreds of my classmates were trying to “kiss up” with a corporate recruiter, I feel I was completely out of place.

    However, what I learned was that I didn’t need to do the same thing others were doing. Instead of attending of the corporate presentations and network with the recruiters, I’d look for creative ways to meet them one-on-one. I participated in several student clubs. And, I tried to use my affiliation with the clubs to initiate contacts with company representatives. And my focus is to offer my help — e.g. give them tips on how to recruit effectively, help set up booth at school job fair, answering their questions.

    A lot of introvert folks are sincere and sensitive. We should our strength as we expand our network.

  2. Diane K. Danielson

    Bill – That’s excellent advice. I’ve found that for introverts it does really help to volunteer at an organization (like your offering to set up a booth, or working at registration, or even being on a committee), because it gives you a role to play.

    Diane

  3. Barbara

    I used to be an intervert. But, it also took volunteering to force me to “put myself out there”. Several years later, and I am Chair of a volunteer organization (professional) and Vice Chair of a “volunteer” work sponsored committee. I am also dating a musician, so I mingle in clubs where he plays and have learned the names of many “regulars”. So, introverts can do it with much “practice”. Sometimes, I do feel “shy” when I attempt to walk into a room, but, then I think about how far I have come and how nice it is to have networked so much that now a president of a NATIONAL organization (my professional organization is an affiliate) sends you an e-mail and a congratuations on a job well done. There’s no feeling like it in the world to really feel like a somebody that has “arrived”. Like the article says, “practice, practice, practice”!!!

  4. KK

    “… 70 percent of all jobs are found through networking”

    Can you be more specific about these data? I have been unable to locate anything like this, but I have seen this exact quote may times. I would really appreciate mroe information about where you found this information. Thanks!

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