You’ve heard it before: when it comes to landing a job and developing your career, networking is everything. Personal connections will accelerate your professional development in a way that e-mails and ads simply can’t. Networking can be a different kind of challenge for introverts since large networking events can be a bit intimidating and exhausting.
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about what introverts are like. As an introvert myself, I know that it doesn’t mean I’m socially inept or even shy. Sure, there are many introverts who are shy, but that isn’t always the case. I’m actually quite outgoing and I love spending time with the people I love. Being an introvert just means that I need time in a quiet, peaceful environment to offset the time I spend socializing. Depending on what kind of introvert you are, the amount of alone time you need might be different, but it’s true that we all need it.
How do you balance being a young professional who is putting yourself out into the business world and being an introvert? I have done the research, and here’s what you need to know.
Preparing for a networking event involves a lot of different steps. One thing that will help make you feel at ease is practicing what you may want to ask people. Simple questions such as, “What are your goals in your career?” or “How did you get started?” will easily spark conversation. You can also practice talking about yourself. Decide what you want to share (and what you don’t) and prepare your own answers to the questions you plan on asking. This way, you’ll be ready to have a balanced conversation.
Another way to prepare is to do your research about the event. Find out who will be there so you can tailor your questions to them. Learn about the venue, the schedule for the event, whether there will be optional workshops, and seek out any other additional information. Being knowledgeable will make you feel more at ease.
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Weigh Cost vs. Benefit
For introverts, the cost of attending a large networking event could be great. You’ll need time to yourself to be ready for the excitement of the event, and then you’ll need alone time after to recuperate. Envision what you would be doing if you didn’t attend the event. Could you use that time productively? If so, due to the high mental and emotional cost of attending, it might be worth it to opt out. Doing your research on the event will help you determine your likelihood of making some beneficial connections.
Network in a Way That Makes You Comfortable
Everyone has their own unique networking style. As an introvert, yours will probably be different than an extrovert’s, but that just means you have to find a style that makes you feel comfortable and authentic. You might not do well at large, freeform conferences but shine at smaller, professional dinner parties. When you get one-on-one with someone, be yourself. If you’re not a forward person, don’t pretend to be. Networking is a subtle art anyway—you don’t want to outright ask for a job or partnership right away. This actually gives introverts an edge over extroverts, who are often more direct and assertive when interacting with people. Use that to your advantage!
Remember that Everyone is in the Same Boat
You’re not the only one who is nervous! Even better, chances are you’re not the only one there who is introverted. If you are worried about approaching someone or you make a mistake, reassure yourself that everyone else is worried about how they’re acting. Usually, people pay much closer attention to themselves and are preoccupied with how they must appear to others—too preoccupied to be judging others. So do your thing and you will be fine.
Have a Buddy
If you’re really nervous, bring a friend or colleague along with you. You guys can buddy up and navigate the networking event together. My suggestion is to bring someone along who is more extroverted than you are. They will do a great job of making you feel more comfortable and bringing you out of your shell. While you might feel timid about approaching someone, your friend will be ready to walk up to them and start a conversation. As the event goes on, you will hopefully loosen up and learn to be bold.
This is a strategy that I often use—and not only in professional situations but also in social ones! I always feel more confident with one of my besties by my side. I naturally become more outgoing when I'm near someone who makes me feel comfortable in my environment. If that person is an extrovert, my personality comes out even more because I can feed off their energy.
Smile and Dress Well
Looking good and feeling good are sure-fire ways to get the confidence boost you need. When you’re in a situation that’s outside your comfort zone, do everything you can to make yourself feel more confident. Wear your favorite professional outfit. Blast your favorite music in the car. Put on your biggest and brightest smile. Make everyone in that room notice you.
You know what you’re doing. Trust in your abilities. After going through all of these steps, you are going to be great. This is another way that having a buddy can come in handy. If you are feeling insecure in this extrovert’s world, they can be there to remind you of how great you are when you’re yourself.
Write a Note
This is something that many people do not do. Sending a note (hand-written, on a real piece of paper, with a stamp and everything) after meeting with someone will set you apart from the crowd. This goes for interviews and other job opportunities as well—always write a thank you note. Taking the time to do this shows that you are a thoughtful and considerate person who truly does care about making genuine connections with others. One problem with networking is that it can often seem superficial. Everyone is trying to get ahead and benefit themselves, though of course not always in an antagonistic way. Business is business, after all. By sending a hand-written note, you prove that you are more genuine than that.
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These steps will ensure success for introverts in any networking situation. If you’re an introvert, networking can be especially difficult because of the energy it takes. But if you take the time to prepare for an event and remember what you are good at and what you are passionate about, you will have no problem.