As an introvert, you may feel like networking isn’t for you. You might have given up on it, or you brave it out, putting the “confident” face on and likely burning out by the end of a social event. The reality is that introverts recharge differently. It’s not that they’re shy, or that they hate people. Introverts may still be leaders – but they don’t like the spotlight or the crowds. They prefer smaller groups and deeper conversations. Nonetheless, you may feel the pressure to network.
Most introverts hate the transactional nature of networking – in many ways networking can be described as the daunting “task of trading favours with strangers”, as defined in this HBR article. It also feels like an act of vulnerability. One must put themselves out there, and reach out and it can easily make you feel desperate. After all, you say to yourself – you should be able to do this on your own.
It does feel like the perfect ingredients for networking are the ability to strike up a conversation with strangers with enough charm and confidence to boot and dazzle them for good measure. At the beginning of your career, you may feel pressured to fit into this “box” (indeed, networking outside your circle is a proven way to power-up your career) you may feel like must learn to “deal with it” and you tell yourself you’ll get used to it. This doesn’t have to be the case. Instead, you have to play up your strengths. How can an introvert make networking work for them?
As an introvert, your approach to networking should be as an introvert, not a “fake” extrovert. You cannot expect to suddenly become this bubbly, charming version of yourself. Almost like an “act” you put on. You will eventually burn out and give up. Instead, you need to network, the Introvert way.
As an introvert, you are likely to stay away from the centre of the room – you will likely spot a secluded area and make it your “recharging” spot. The chances are, you’re not the only one searching for this elusive spot. On the bright side, these people are your kind of people. You’ll likely find these cornered gatherings on the periphery of any social event. Instead of attempting to brave the epicentre of the social event, where you might encounter the most extroverted of people, look for the sidelines. There, you will meet people similar to you – those interested in deeper conversation, avoid being the centre of attention, and with a likely aversion to small talk.
On the topic of small talk, from a young age, we’re exposed to courses, seminars, and articles on how to introduce ourselves to people and “network”, because the world is made for and by the Neurotypical Extrovert. While you should push yourself out of your comfort zone, this is not a skill you might want to learn. Instead, focus on initiating meaningful conversations – ask deeper questions matter such as – “What do you do, or rather – what would you rather do for a living?”
Look at your superpower
Introverts are typically good listeners, they’re also more likely to build more meaningful connections with people they meet. Whilst an extrovert is likely to forget you the next day, once you meet an introvert and you’ve struck a deep connection with them, they will most definitely remember you – whether it’s a week or a year later. Likely, as an introvert, you will do well in a one-on-one or small group situation. So instead of just meeting anyone who comes along – as an introvert, do your homework, take note of who might be in attendance and who you want to connect with. Someone whose work interests you, someone you admire, someone you might want to work with. Then find moments when they might be alone and introduce yourself. That seems much easier to do than randomly introducing yourself to strangers in a crowd. The bonus part is that you already have enough conversation fodder to start off with – “I really liked your work with X, tell me more about it.” If they are too busy, ask if it’s ok to connect with them later via LinkedIn or email.
Use your connections to connect with new people
Introverts can be highly passionate about topics they’re interested in. Indeed, acquaintances might have said “didn’t realise you were so talkative”… once they’ve struck a chord with a subject you’re passionate about. Ask friends to connect you with people who share your same passions. That’s one “free friend” you have in the bank!
Bottom line: be yourself
It’s easy to feel disheartened in a world that seems to be dominated by loud extroverts. The truth is, it only seems that way because extroverts do tend to make some noise. Your network may not be far and wide, but it is probably deeper. You likely remember each and every one on that list. Your introversion will connect you with people who share your passions and will lead to bigger, brighter things. Embrace it.
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