“Networking” is a word that can instantly conjure feelings of dread, particularly for introverted or shy individuals. It doesn’t have to be painful, but talking to a bunch of strangers may be nerve-wracking if you feel out of practice or intimidated. Here are four ways to build and enjoy a network that will benefit your career for years to come, even if you aren’t the most outgoing of people.
1. Rethink the Term
All too often, networking is thought of as a way to get something from someone else, with nothing in return. Rather than viewing others as resources to tap as needed, think first about what you can offer those around you in order to help their careers progress.
Whether it’s a simple introduction, a piece of expert advice, or offering to assist with practice interviews, being proactively helpful is likely to ensure that someone in your network will be happy to return the favor in future.
2. Set Yourself Realistic Goals
If you’re on the shy side, it can be all too tempting to avoid networking events. To make them more bearable – even enjoyable – think about what it is you want to achieve there. For example, telling yourself you want to meet three new people and learn about their career paths gives you a tangible goal that will widen your network.
Once you’ve met that goal, don’t feel pressured to stay for a long time. If you’re starting to feel anxious and socially exhausted, hanging around could be counter-productive. It’s perfectly acceptable at this point to get people’s business cards, say your goodbyes, and head for the door.
3. Come Armed With Questions
Introverts tend to be much more comfortable in one-on-one conversations than with big groups or crowds. Even then, though, a chat over coffee can incite anxiety if a potential new job is at stake.
A key way to combat nerves is through preparation. By coming to the table with smart questions – perhaps about your contact’s own career history, the role, or their company’s culture – you will naturally express your passions, perspectives, and curiosity. While you will no doubt be asked plenty of questions in return, a flowing conversation – rather than an interrogation – is what you want.
4. Not All Networking Is New
Rather than focusing on an ever-larger network, it is important for introverts to maintain and deepen the connections they already have. This is true for extroverts too, of course, but the quieter among us may find it easier to invest in existing relationships than worry about talking to lots of strangers.
Utilize social media as a way to reconnect with school friends, former co-workers and other acquaintances that work in your field or area of interest. Don’t stop there, though – reach out and ask them to meet for coffee or lunch. It’s crucial to continually invest in these connections, so that you’ll be kept in mind if a position becomes available in future.