3 Non-Awkward Ways to Network for Reflective Types
By Phaedra Brotherton, JCTC, CPRW, CDF
You’ve heard over and over that networking is one of the best job search strategies you can use to find your next job—or your dream job, and it is. But it’s also the technique that most people really don’t understand and feel uncomfortable engaging in—especially if you consider yourself shy or on the quiet side. The key is to find networking techniques or as I like to think of the “business friendship development” strategies that fit your particular personality. Networking effectively doesn’t mean you have to overhaul your personality or become someone you’re not.
“So many people don’t even attempt networking because it seems like an alien way of being and thus a task that’s impossible to fit into their daily lives,” writes Michelle Tullier in her classic book, Networking for Job Search and Career Success. “That’s unfortunate because the process can be quite rewarding, and occasionally even fun, once you get the hang of it,” she notes.
An important concept related to networking that can make it easier for you is to remember that networking is a skill that can be developed with practice. So start simple and slow.
“If you tackle too much at once, you’re likely to get discouraged or burn out and give up,” notes Tullier. “Try instead to take baby steps and let your confidence build slowly with each positive experience…especially when you’re learning a new way of thinking and acting.”
Here are three ideas for ways to network even if you’re not the most outgoing or a “life of the party” type.
- Volunteer. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be president or committee chair or anything that puts you out there in a big way—at first. There are several behind-the-scene roles—including virtual ones — that you can take on that play to your strengths, including newsletter editor, secretary, treasurer, membership committee greeter, or member of the programming committee. These positions give you a built-in excuse to reach out to and connect with leaders in your profession on a one-on-one basis. You can also think about participating in one-time or short-term projects—such as serving as a judge for an awards program—if your schedule prevents you from making a long-term commitment.
- Attend events with a purpose. Sometimes it’s helpful to attend events that are for a specific purpose, for example, educational events such as round tables and even conferences. And these can all be done virtually as well as in-person. Right there you have a built-in way to strike up a conversation and automatically have something in common with others who attended the conference. Take the initiative and follow up with attendees who have made interesting comments and reach out via LinkedIn or via an email if you have access to the attendee list.
When face-to-face meetings are possible again, strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you, and try asking, “What brings you here today” or even more low-pressure, “Have you been to these events before?” This is a pretty natural way to start a conversation with a new colleague, which could be followed up with a meeting for coffee or a LinkedIn invitation following the event.
- Share your knowledge. Many quieter types who enjoy reading and research have lots of knowledge about things that others would find helpful or interesting. Take advantage of this natural talent by using it to help you connect and follow up with others and build relationships. With social media or even just plain old email, it’s easy to send someone a useful article or link to an interesting video or podcast. This can be done through a social networking site — like LinkedIn or Facebook — or an alumni site or your trade/professional association’s website (which might have a message board or email list to connect members).
The key is to remember that networking is about connecting with others and building mutually beneficial relationships over time. Attending events with a purpose can help you stay current in your field and get out there and meet others whom you normally wouldn’t meet. Sharing information and volunteering enables you to contribute and raise your visibility while nurturing and building relationships with those you’ve met. Notes Tullier, “You never know where a job, a business lead, or some good advice is going to turn up.”