Four Strategies for Introvert-Friendly Networking
By Sonia Kelly
Networking is a key step in career development, but it can be incredibly intimidating. Loud and crowded events such as career fairs can feel overwhelming and talking to a speaker after such an event can be daunting. However, these are not the only meaningful and effective ways to network.
As an introvert, the following are some of the best ways I’ve found to get involved, make meaningful connections, and learn to network. There is no perfect formula for networking, or steps you can take to guarantee a job or internship. Networking is a highly individualized process, and it is important to find strategies that work for you. These practices have helped me, and I hope they can give you some creative ways to network and inspire you to determine the best way for you to feel comfortable and confident.
Practice in low-pressure situations
Networking, like many other things, becomes less discouraging with practice. It is likely that you are already surrounded by numerous potential mentors and people to network with. Taking small steps with leaders you are already familiar with — a teacher, a youth group leader, a family friend — can allow you to become more accustomed to asking important questions and learning how to market yourself.
The best part about this strategy is that you may find a mentor without even intending to. If you practice building connections with adult professionals, you may find someone already in your network who can answer your questions, spark personal development, and advocate on your behalf.
For example, in my junior year of high school, I stayed after a history class to ask my teacher a question. She saw my curiosity for history, kept talking with me, and encouraged me to apply for an educational program with her help. A few months later, we were accepted as a teacher-student team to a fully funded historical research program in Normandy, France. There, I met even more students and teachers with similar interests.
This experience has continued to benefit me to this day; not only did I gain an indispensable mentor and friend in my teacher, I gained experience doing historical research and publishing my writing. I’ve realized that none of this would have happened if I hadn’t reached out to my teacher to express my interest in history, and it has pushed me to be vocal about my interests with those that I am familiar and comfortable with. This, too, is a form of networking — you truly never know behind what door an opportunity is hiding!
Use multiple forms of communication
Face-to-face networking is great, but don’t ignore various other forms of communication. Sending follow-up emails after a presentation or lecture can be just as effective as approaching a speaker immediately afterwards — you are able to establish a communication channel between you and the speaker while in a more comfortable environment. Additionally, this channel is more permanent than a comment after a presentation; if the speaker responds and a conversation begins, you can more easily begin long-term communication.
LinkedIn is also a great tool, especially for connecting with individuals with whom you have less strong connections within your network. On LinkedIn, the community is enriched and created by its users, so commenting on posts or congratulating those in your network on their new position is a great way to stay relevant to your connections. Additionally, connecting with mentors or other adult professionals is a great way to diversify the content on your feed.
I personally saw a huge difference in my feed when I began connecting with contacts from my internships or jobs; my feed was more tailored to my career interests and there were a lot more opportunity posts. When my LinkedIn network consisted primarily of other students, all of them were searching for opportunities like myself rather than promoting opportunities. Therefore, my feed was less relevant and applicable to my professional aspirations
In team #EmboldenMe’s webinar on May 27, David Fletcher, a senior career advisor at American University’s School of International Service, encouraged students to reach out to event speakers on LinkedIn. This is a great example of an easy way to diversify the content you see on LinkedIn and connect with a professional in your field. It’s always a good idea when connecting to add a note about how you met and what you’re passionate about learning to that person — a personal touch can be rewarding and valuable!
Maintain a relationship with past mentors and employers
Previous mentors and employers can be helpful in serving as a reference or writing a recommendation, but they can also serve as connections to your field of interest. Naturally, mentors and employers have more connections in their field than a student would and are more often made aware of opportunities. In the same way that students are looking for experience, many startups, non-profits, and other organizations are looking for interns but don’t necessarily have the resources to publicize them in the capacity that national and international businesses do. Your past mentors and employers can be a huge resource in this area and are typically less intimidating to connect with.
In general, these people typically have knowledge and experience of the field and they are more than willing to share that with you. For example, a previous professor of mine made me aware of an internship-for-credit opportunity, helped my application get approved, and served as my academic advisor for the internship. Without keeping in contact with this professor after the course ended, I would not have been aware of the unpublicized departmental opportunities offered at my university.
Keeping in contact doesn’t have to be a huge commitment. You can write an email to your contact every few months, visit your old workplace if appropriate, or attend office hours of your teacher or professor. In general, adults who choose to work with students are eager to help them, so they’ll be eager to maintain communication.
Know where you’re comfortable
As an introvert, I’m not the most comfortable at career fairs, asking questions in front of an audience at an event, or at interest meetings for organizations. However, I feel comfortable and confident when I have more control over the situation, and when I am addressing one person rather than a large group. Knowing this about myself has allowed me to pursue networking opportunities which avoid loud, crowded events. Instead, I’ll schedule a call with someone at an organization I’m interested in speaking with or schedule a coffee meeting or an office appointment with a professor specializing in my area of interest.
Being aware of where you are comfortable and confident is the key to having a good experience while networking. Ask for informational interviews if you thrive in one-on-one scenarios, schedule an audio call if you’re uncomfortable meeting in person, and attend event and career fairs if you work well in fast-paced environments. It may take a bit of experimentation to find networking strategies that fit you, so try not to be too discouraged by a bad experience.
Another important aspect of being comfortable and confident is knowing how to pursue your genuine interests. Instead of attending presentations about careers in medicine when you want to work in publishing, seek out opportunities and experiences which are well-suited to your interests. Not only will you naturally show your best version of yourself when talking about real interests and passions, you will meet people and gain experiences relevant to your future.
When you learn how and where to market yourself and where to channel your energy, networking will become a much less daunting, and, hopefully, a much more enjoyable activity. These strategies have allowed me to find success in networking, and they may help you too. But, even more importantly, I hope they’ve highlighted the variety of ways to go about networking and getting involved.
Sonia Kelly is an Embolden intern and history student in the William & Mary/St Andrews Joint Degree Programme.
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