When I’m asked to impart networking advice, my natural inclination is to rattle off a list of can’t-miss best practices:
- Build a profile and get active on LinkedIn.
- Participate heavily in live and online networking events and job fairs.
- Schmooze your contacts now—not when you need them!
- Meet at least three new people every week.
- Pay it forward! Aim to help two or three people for every one that helps you.
And be sure to lay on two thick coats of charm and charisma as you proceed!
The list above includes several key components of a networking regimen that career counselors have prescribed since the dawn of time. But is it right for everyone? I used to think so until the introverted subset of Resume Deli’s clientele had a few things to say on the matter: I feel like a fraud at these fancy networking events where everyone’s smiling at each other. Who’s buying that act?…Introducing myself to new people in general makes me uncomfortable. If I’m going to do it, I’d rather it be one-on-one…I don’t go to networking parties because I get anxious in big crowds…I feel like an animal being led to slaughter when I’m in line at a job fair. The recruiters there can’t possibly want to talk to all of those people.
When I first heard these protests I sought to push the envelope: Like it or not, you need to follow through on all customary networking activities in order to make it in today’s cut-throat job market. So just deal with it! Once you get the ball rolling, it will get easier. You’ll even come to enjoy it!
But I’ve come to realize that not everyone enjoys networking. The networking strategy presented above is built for people who like to meet and introduce themselves to others…or who can at least tolerate it. But liking people isn’t a prerequisite for success. Just ask so many writers, researchers and veterinarians who’ve actively selected careers that minimize human contact (warning: they may not answer you).
Professional gatherings and more invasive activities like “speed networking” and an endless list of creative ice-breakers can be effective means to an end, but if you stick yourself in an uncomfortable situation and underperform—or worse, make a spectacle of yourself—it won’t do you any good, either.
My networking advice to the reserved, the asocial and the introverted, in a word, is research.
If you prefer information to people as many introverts do, then research is your lifeline to the networked universe. To even the playing field with the extroverts who rub elbows (and Lord knows what else) at mixers, you need to perform Internet and other research double-time in order to pick up industry trends and company news and discover professionals and thought leaders whose work inspires you. When someone grabs your attention, zero-in: read their articles, books and academic papers; make it your business to attend their presentations and lectures. Don’t worry, you can remain a wallflower during this part of the process, but ultimately, you will want to step beyond your comfort zone (i.e., suck it up!).
Eventually you’ll want to reach out via phone (this takes chutzpa!) or email (less chutzpa required, but still an effective strategy) to introduce yourself and arrange an in-person meeting. If there’s a genuine fit between your needs and interests, outreach at this stage should feel right to you as you realize that the other person has as much to gain from your exchange as you do.