By Megan R. Elrath
Team Writer, ReFresh Your Step, LLC — Career Advisory & Strategy
I often describe myself as a “career nerd.” As early as my college years, I happily threw myself into learning as much as possible about careers – career theory, resume writing, interviewing, job searching, and much more. If it related to careers, my interest piqued. However, one career-related topic struck fear into my strongly introverted heart: networking. The idea of networking filled my mind with images of awkward handshakes, strained conversations, poorly-timed business card exchanges, and consistent overshadowing by my extroverted peers. In fact, early in my career I completely shunned the idea of using networking to aid in my career, thinking that as an introvert, my only option during my job search would be to dive into the vast ocean of online job boards. I decided that my decent writing skills would have to produce compelling resumes and cover letters to get my foot in the door, since I certainly would not be able to make any personal connections at my employers of choice. Thankfully, I eventually learned some strategies that even I, the introvert of all introverts, could implement to comfortably (and successfully!) network in my career.
Before I share my tips for networking success as an introvert, let’s first review some definitions. Introverts gain their energy from their inner world, often prefer to do things alone or in small groups, and take their time to think before acting. Introverts often do enjoy social activities, but large groups and highly social settings tend to leave us feeling drained. Professional networking means leveraging or creating a social network to advance your professional goals, and building connections based on trust. Knowing these two concepts, we can determine how to best network as an introvert.
- Start Small. As you begin your professional networking project, start by simply incorporating your career goals into the conversations you already engage in with your personal network. As you go about your weekly routine and chat with your inner circle, weave your career goal into your conversation and ask a question as simple as “do you have any thoughts or advice on who might know about…?” Your friends and family may already have solid connections and be willing to initiate an introduction for you.
- Link Up on LinkedIn. LinkedIn has been a game changer for professional networking, especially for introverts. Examine your existing connections to find inroads in your company or career field of interest, then get in touch to ask for their advice or insights for success in that sector. You can even reach out to professionals with whom you are not yet connected. It is perfectly acceptable to contact an aspirational connection, let them know you admire their work and career, and ask if they would be willing to give you some advice on how to get started in their area of expertise. Keep your communications short, simple, and professional, and always follow up with a thank you to anyone who gives you their time.In fact, I began working with ReFresh Your Step after connecting with the company’s founder, Emily Kapit, on LinkedIn. Impressed by her work, I reached out to her for advice as I launched my career as a resume writer. Not only did she provide me with some helpful tips and strategies, but she also mentioned that her company hires on new resume writers from time to time. A few months later, she posted on LinkedIn that she was hiring – and I got the job!
- Join a Group. While networking in large groups may feel a bit intimidating, joining a group of like-minded peers may feel more comfortable due to your already existing commonalities. Attend group meetings, listen and learn, and identify a few key people with whom to develop deeper relationships. For example, after relocating to a different city, I immediately connected with my alma mater’s local alumni chapter. After attending a few social events and chatting with several fellow alumni, I ended up getting introduced to an educational consultant who gave me some valuable advice and connections in the education sector.
- Get Active. Remember, professionals exist in all spheres of life, not just in professional settings. Get involved with an activity that you enjoy and make connections with your fellow participants. Coach your daughter’s soccer team, cuddle kittens at the local animal shelter, or plant trees in your local park with an environmental group. Working alongside people who share your values and interests naturally creates opportunities for conversation, and you can certainly bring up your professional endeavors when it feels appropriate.
- Try Networking Groups – But Do Your Research First. Once you have grown more comfortable with the four strategies listed above, branch out of your comfort zone even more and try networking in a larger group. To make this process a bit more manageable, target a small group of 3-5 people or organizations whom you know will be in attendance. Do some research on your targeted group and prepare specific questions or conversation starters to help you engage. By preparing ahead of time, you will likely feel more in control of a situation that may have felt intimidating to you in the past, and you’ll leave the event with some tangible next steps that you can accomplish on a one-on-one basis.
As you work your way through these five networking strategies, remember that networking becomes most effective when you do it consistently. Set a goal of completing a networking activity a few times a week, knowing that your network will become larger and more effective the more you cultivate it. Keep in mind, though, that follow up is crucial, so be sure to not only thank the people who help you, but update them on your progress and let them know when you reach your goal. Finally, networking is a two-way street, so always offer your own help and expertise to your connections too.
By following the tips above, staying consistent, and remaining positive, you will accomplish your professional goals and build a long-lasting and fruitful network that will benefit you for years to come.
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About the author:
Megan R. Elrath, CPRW, is a leading resume writer with ReFresh Your Step. She is also a Career Services Professional for the University of Georgia. For more information about Refresh Your Step, please visit refreshyourstep.com.