For introverts, loners, and the shy, networking can feel firmly outside of their comfort zone. Still, networking is an important career and job search move: it's through contacts and connections that many interviews are scheduled, and jobs earned.
If the idea of a networking event makes you shudder, here are some tips that will help it go smoother. Who knows: you might even discover that some networking events are not so bad. You can even successfully build your professional network without ever attending an networking event.
1. Take Networking Online
For many, it's the in-person quality of networking events that can be particularly challenging. The idea of having to go up to strangers can be enough to make hands sweat and stomachs roll. Fortunately, we live in a digital age.
Take your networking to the web: establish an active Twitter presence and interact with people in your field. Bulk up your LinkedIn profile and activity. Virtual networking is a terrific way to grow your networking without going to an event.
2. Network One-on-One
Not all networking needs to be done at a big event or meetup. While group conversations can be a struggle for introverts, a one-on-one conversation can give them an opportunity to show off keen listening skills and make a solid connection.
Suggest coffee dates and other one-on-one interactions, and ask friends and colleagues to set you up on chats with people outside of your immediate network.
3. Bring a Friend
Headed to a big gathering of strangers? See if you can bring a friend, co-worker, or even an acquaintance along. There's just something about knowing at least one person at an event that can make it less nerve-wracking.
Bonus points if the person you know isn't shy, and feels comfortable starting conversations with strangers.
4. Don't Forget Old Contacts in a Quest for New Ones
When you're in networking mode, it can be easy to focus on expanding your network and tracking your growing number of LinkedIn contacts obsessively.
As you make new connections, though, don't forget to keep in contact with the old ones. Drop old co-workers an email to catch them up on your situation (and of course, don't forget to ask after their career, too!). Schedule coffee dates and keep in regular touch with the important people in your network; as with friendship, you don't want to only be in touch when you need a favor.
5. Follow up After Introductions
Collect business cards and send emails the next day: make them personalized and targeted to increase your chances of success. Add people on LinkedIn: most people will accept invitations from people they've met in person. Find examples of networking letters to send after your initial connection is made.
6. Be Prepared
As you prepare for a networking event, think of it as if you're going into battle: your weapons are small talk and chitchat. If there is a list of the people at the networking event available beforehand, make a list of the ones you'd really like to chat with.
Look them up online to find out a bit of their work history to make starting and maintaining a conversation easier.
Review these conversation starters, so it's easy to connect with other participants.
It's one thing to be the quiet person at an event, or even to be off in the corner answering emails on your phone. It's another to look glum, uncomfortable, or so unsmiling that you seem angry. Try to look engaged with the event. Present yourself outwardly as being open and eager to meet new people, even if you feel differently inside.
8. Be Yourself
Not the center of attention? That's OK! Don't pretend to be: that would ring false. You can be reserved, and take advantage of your listening skills. You don't have to be the center of attention if that's not a role that you're comfortable with. After all, extroverts need an audience for their stories and wisecracks.
Perhaps the most important tip of them all is to remember that you're not the only shy person in any situation: many people are introverts. In fact, one additional way to succeed at networking events may be to locate a fellow introvert.