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Guest Blog - Anxiety Free Networking for Introverts

Many job seekers dread networking.

The thought of reaching out, hat-in hand to a lukewarm contact list is daunting.

The prospect is doubly so for introverts who often allow their professional connections to grow cold when gainfully employed.

For these individuals the only fate more loathsome than the old smile and dial routine is approaching someone directly at a live event.

Like many introverts, I find the obligatory small talk that permeates career fairs draining at best, mind-numbing at worst. Having to engage in this activity while simultaneously “pitching” oneself for some hypothetical opportunity is downright exhausting.

Years ago I often envision such networking socials as the business equivalent of a meat market nightclub where attendees replace cheesy “how you doin’? pick-up lines with awkward career inquiries and soul-stealing elevator pitches. The reality of course is not nearly as bleak.   

By leveraging their inquisitive nature and solution-orientation, introverts can actually excel at face-to-face networking. Keeping true to themselves and focusing on quality of conversation as oppose to quantity of contacts collected will make the time spent more meaningful and effective.

You can accomplish this by shifting your focus to other person’s needs. By letting go of your agenda and actively listening to your conversation counterpart, you will quickly establish rapport and in doing so, leave the individual with a positive impression. The trick is learning to let go of (at least temporarily) your desired outcome.

A practical way to put this theory to action is to make it a goal-oriented game.

For example, if attending an hour-long networking event, commit to talk with five people long enough to play the following three roles:

  1. Reporter: Don’t just ask what they do, express interest by digging into the why – why they entered the profession, why it’s important to them, or simply why they came to the event.
  2. Connector: Find out if there is specific help they require: an introduction, a job lead, a low cost computer whiz who can help them with their website. The need doesn’t matter as much as your willingness to ask. You may not be able to help on the spot, but sometimes you can. In those cases do so, and you’ll earn a new fan. If not, promise to keep an eye out… and honestly make the effort.
  3. Escape Artist: Briefly mention what you do and why you attended the event. As a way of closing, express a desire to continue the conversation or just wish them well, then allow the individual to network with others. If they can help you, they’ll say so. If not, they’ll appreciate the tactful exit and walk away feeling good about the encounter.

When you use this technique you get to be yourself and avoid the feeling of “cheapness” that can sometimes infiltrate the sensibilities of those new to networking.

You also get a result-focused, time-oriented goal that puts you in control of your attendance – in this case you can leave guilt free after five conversations or stay longer and achieve even greater results. Best of all, by focusing on the other person, you leave each wanting more which can lead to a more meaningful, mutually beneficial follow-up.

Tim_Toterhi.jpgTim Toterhi is an executive coach, speaker.

He is also the author of The Introvert's Guide to Job Hunting: How To Outshine The Competition. Twitter at @timtoterhi